Who cut your pork chop, Governor DeSantis?

by Art Cullen, Iowa Capital Dispatch
May 30, 2023

Ron DeSantis was railing on about illegal immigration while grilling pork chops at the annual picnic May 13 in deep-red Sioux Center hosted by Rep. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull. The crowd cheered him on, knowing full well that immigrants cut the chops and work the dairy barns around Northwest Iowa.

It’s an open secret that the livestock economy vitally depends on immigrants, mainly from Latin America, to put cheap pork on your grill and cheese in your larder. Everybody knows we couldn’t get by without them. Yet we cheer on the most strident anti-immigrant outrage.

What gives? Do they resent that corporations have taken over pork and dairy production? Because they scarcely could exist without immigrants. Help-wanted signs are everywhere. You hear it all the time: We just can’t find help. The Legislature wants you to prove work for welfare with a 2.8% state unemployment rate. It just loosened up child labor laws, too.

In rural food processing hubs like Sioux Center or Storm Lake, it takes someone bent on the American Dream to scoop manure or work in the blood-drying room. Tyson pays $21.50 to start at the Storm Lake pork plant and cannot keep the roster full. How would you like to load turkeys on a truck at 2 a.m. when the sleet whips sideways and that squawking feathery rage is coming right at you?

Yet we clap when someone talks about keeping Venezuelans, Cubans, Salvadorans, Hondurans and Mexicans out.

Donald Trump made fear-mongering over foreigners his theme, and won Iowa handily despite the fact that it is a land full of folks descended from Germans, Dutch, Norwegians and Swedes.

Storm Lake and Sioux Center are growing — the latter up 17% to 8,200 population in the past decade. In Storm Lake, voters keep on approving bond issues for schools where children of immigrants fill the classrooms. Both communities boast strong main streets with full storefronts and lots of huge late-model pickups. Other towns would kill for the vitality.

Yet Feenstra jabbers on as much about immigrants being a problem as any Republican House member.

In fact, they are an opportunity.

We don’t have mountains with ski slopes and dramatic vistas. We have corn and hogs. It’s tough to keep kids down on the farm once they’ve seen Des Moines or suburban Minneapolis.

Who’s going to milk the cows or cut the bung out of a hog hanging upside down? Billy went off to be a commodities broker at the Chicago Board of Trade, and his parents back in Sioux County are proud. But we still have work to do here. Honest work. Hard work. Few others want to do it. Those are facts, too. We rely Latinos to git ’er done.

Why, then, would you want to deport people who are indispensable to your dairy?

Well, they weren’t really thinking about the milking parlor. They were thinking about those people at the border muling so many opioids their calves are bulging, like former Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, described.

That’s what people are told, over and over and over on AM radio, on cable news, on social media and by their congressman and their senators. It’s the power of propaganda. The problem is not with the person they know but the boogeyman who has been created to keep our fear stoked. If you are going to wage a war, you have to have an enemy. The machine spits out a bandito. Let’s deport them. Not the guy in my barn.

These are good Calvinists, by and large, listening to the governor of Florida. They say they don’t like Trump’s depravity. But they don’t mind the stuff about immigrants.

The immigrants make the ice cream, too.

The people in the audience have come to believe that the immigrant is the problem and not the system that makes up the crisis that does not exist in Sioux Center or Storm Lake. Everybody knows we need more help — here in Iowa and at the border for asylum processing. But they don’t want to let them through. President Biden tries to talk as tough as Trump: If you don’t stay back, we’ll lock you up. All good sense is thrown out the window. You don’t even know who’s responsible for your food while you’re talking smack and eating it.

Art Cullen is editor of the Storm Lake Times Pilot, where this column first appeared, as well as Art Cullen’s Notebook on Substack. It is republished here as part of the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative.

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Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: info@iowacapitaldispatch.com. Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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