January 3, 2011 | Des Moines Register | Original Article

Iowa's census blues and the Dream Act

What do census data on congressional apportionment have to do with the recently scuttled Dream Act, and why does this matter for Iowa? New U.S. Census 2010 figures show that while Iowa grew to just over 3 million people, it did not grow at the same rate as states in the South and West, and hence will lose a congressional representative. What little growth Iowa had since the last census is likely due to immigrants, primarily from Latin America.

We often forget that the census counts all people in the territory - not just citizens and permanent residents. States with large immigrant populations - authorized or otherwise - benefit from increases in political representation as well as from the economic dynamism associated with immigration.

Enter the Dream Act, which would have granted "conditional nonimmigrant status" to a select group of currently unauthorized young immigrants brought to the United States as children. That is, if they completed two years of college or military service and met a series of stringent requirements, including a criminal background check.

Although the U.S. Senate on Dec. 18 voted 55-41 in favor of holding a final vote on the Dream Act, it required 60 votes for passage. Our very own Sen. Chuck Grassley voted against consideration of the bill, even though it had been substantially modified to address his concerns and those of other anti-immigrationists. It would not have been amnesty because the young people affected were unable to make an informed decision about immigration. It was widely supported by political actors as different as the U.S. armed forces, the College Board and conservative evangelicals. It would not have affected border security, since arrests and deportations are at a historically high number despite misinformation to the contrary.

With passage of the Dream Act, Iowa would have been well positioned to attract the young, well-prepared workers who would benefit from this legislation. The state has low real estate prices, high quality of life, a good educational system and industries that could draw such workers even as our native-born youth head for greener pastures. With creative incentives, Iowa could have been a destination for this much needed human capital. For the moment, we have squandered a golden opportunity to at least attenuate our census blues. Our representatives can still show they have our interests at heart by supporting future versions of the Dream Act or any policy with the potential to attract newcomers to Iowa.