Advocates speak out against Iowa’s anti-immigration bills

Cecilia Martinez of Des Moines speaks at a rally inside the Iowa Capitol to denounce anti-immigration legislation that was held on Wednesday, Feb. 7. Photo by Ty Rushing/Starting Line

By Ty Rushing

February 7, 2024

As far as Cecilia Martinez is concerned, they are very much an Iowan despite what some Iowa lawmakers may think.

Martinez, 27, moved from Mexico to Iowa when they were 1-year-old. They were educated in Iowa schools from kindergarten through college and continue to live, work, and advocate for various causes while residing in the Des Moines metro.

“I wake up every morning [and] and I am an Iowan and I would like to stay an Iowan,” Martinez said. “I would like to continue my life here, but we can’t do that if [politicians] are constantly dividing communities and bringing up, again, these false narratives that immigrants don’t contribute to our communities when we do.”

Martinez shared their story on Wednesday at a rally inside the Iowa State Capitol rotunda that was put on by the Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice (MMJ), of which Martinez is a board member. A couple of dozen supporters clad in orange T-shirts and supportive signs joined them.

MMJ provides legal service and advocacy for immigrant and refugee populations. The group hosted Wednesday’s rally to speak out and draw attention to four bills circulating through the Iowa Legislature:

  • SF 108 would require all Iowa employers to enroll in the federal E-verify program and would include punishments for Iowa businesses found to be employing undocumented workers.
  • SF 2211 would allow Iowa judges and law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws, including the ability to deport someone.
  • HF 2112 would prevent undocumented people from receiving public assistance from the state and essentially make it a felony offense to ride in a car with someone who is undocumented.
  • HF 2320 would prevent undocumented residents who live in Iowa from receiving in-state tuition benefits at Iowa’s state universities and community colleges.

Vanessa Marcano-Kelly, a West Des Moines resident who immigrated to the US from Venezuela and MMJ board member, talked about some of the issues from those legislative proposals.

“These most recent bills destabilize Iowa’s workforce, disinvest in promising young people, create additional barriers for low-income families, and threaten support networks for people who are seeking safety in Iowa,” she said.

Marcano-Kelly also called out the political motivations of the legislation and noted many of the proposals are already codified either in state or federal law.

“Iowa legislators are following an obvious and tired trend: Every election year, they attack immigrants and lean into misinformation and fear to try to mobilize their voters,” she said.

“Some of these bills aren’t even new laws; rather they are restating laws that are already on the books,” Marcano-Kelly continued. “These bills are nothing more than political posturing for punching down on vulnerable communities and proposing solutions in search of problems.”

Martinez also asked lawmakers to look around and consider the value immigrants continue to bring to Iowa, especially in rural communities.

“Who is starting these new businesses, who is revitalizing all of these schools, who is creating the next generation of Iowans? It’s the immigrant and refugee communities,” Martinez said, drawing cheers from the crowd.

“You know certain legislators want Iowa to look a certain way, but that is completely ignoring the reality of who Iowa is and who makes up Iowa. We are lowa and we will continue to try and make this state as great as possible.”

You can watch the entire rally here:

  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.



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