Fred Wyngarden's great-great grandfather came to America in 1847. He didn't speak English. Three generations later, Wyngarden said he can only speak about three words in his ancestors' native Dutch.
"We are all immigrants," he said. "I don't understand why people are afraid of people from other places."
Wyngarden is just one of about 30 people that were at a Marshalltown Public Library luncheon Tuesday afternoon to discuss immigration policy with U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa.
T-R PHOTO BY DAVID ALEXANDER
U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, speaks to a small crowd of people at Marshalltown Public Library Tuesday afternoon about immigration reform. Obama for America sponsored Braley’s visit as part of the president’s campaign for re-election in November. Braley applauded Obama’s deferred action policy, which allows young immigrants without a criminal past to avoid deportation, and said he looks forward to working to overhaul how the government deals with immigration.
Rep. Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, who introduced Braley, called him "one of the truly great fighters in the American Congress for good, hard-working people."
Braley's stop was the last leg of a three-part tour of Marshalltown Tuesday, which took him to the Iowa Veterans Home to discuss his trip to Iwo Jima earlier this year and to the Elmwood County Club to present local Silver-Star recipient Todd Eipperle with a photograph of Eipperle and President Barack Obama.
The visit, sponsored by Obama for America, aimed to show voters that, as a new representative of Iowa's First Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, Braley plans to champion immigration reform.
He said tax payers would likely be shocked by how much money the federal government spends deporting and detaining immigrants. Situations like the 2008 Postville raid, where federal agents arrested 389 undocumented workers and detained them, cost tax payers millions of dollars and do little to address the issue of immigration.
"Everyday in this county, people are charged with crimes. They go to court. They are given due process. They plead guilty. They pay a fine. They are on probation. And if they satisfy the terms of their probation, their records are expunged, and they are able to go back to their community without any long-term consequences," Braley said. "We can come up with similar solutions to immigration if we just have the courage to sit down at the table and talk about how we are going to fix this problem."
When questioned by the audience as to what people in Marshalltown can do to help this cause, Braley said people need to work to put a human face on immigration and dispel the myths surrounding it.
"This isn't a Democrat problem or a Republican problem, this is an American problem," he said.
Braley told the audience to advocate for their rights and form coalitions with like-minded people. Only then will they see progress.
Nancy Earney, a representative with Immigrant Allies, said the group is working to reach out to the Hispanic community with events like its upcoming Community Unity Day in Anson Park.
"Marshalltown is beginning to change," she said.
Bill Helgen, of Marshalltown, said in order to dispel myths surrounding immigration the government first needs to speed up and simplify the process of entering the country, which, he said, it absolutely bungles.
Many people don't realize, when they say things like "they should just get to the back of the line," that there is no line, he said. And if there were, it would take 10 to 15 years and a small fortune to get to the front of it.
"It's just not realistic," he said of the process.
Braley said he will continue to work with Obama to get legislation like the DREAM Act passed, and he is committed to learning from and listening to his constituency.
Iowa is continually getting more diverse, he said, and people's perception of it are changing as a result. Immigrants are just as much of Iowa's community as anybody else.
"It takes about three generations for a culture to get acclimated," Wyngarden said.