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Miller-Meeks Voices Support For Bipartisan Effort On Immigration Reform In Meeting With Undocumented Immigrants, Advocates

Pro-immigration reform activists hold a banner during the inauguration ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Pro-immigration reform activists hold a banner during the inauguration ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Republican U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks met virtually with a group of undocumented immigrants and advocates Friday, listening to their accounts of family separation and economic struggle and their calls for support of President Joe Biden’s immigration proposals. Despite campaigning as a “pro-Trump conservative” and backing the former president’s border wall, the congresswoman told the advocates she wants to see bipartisan work on immigration reform.

They began the meeting with a prayer: the Hail Mary, en español. Led by Father Guillermo Treviño, advocates from the Iowa City Catholic Worker House and the Gamaliel Iowa chapter prayed (virtually) alongside Miller-Meeks and Bishop Thomas Zinkula of the Diocese of Davenport.

Four women took turns telling their stories to Miller-Meeks, some speaking through an interpreter.

Modesta Mateo Pedro, originally from Guatemala, told the congresswoman how her family came to the United States eager to work and seeking a better life, but that her husband was detained while accompanying her for a check-in with immigration officers.

“This wasn't my husband's appointment, he just was taking me,” she said through an interpreter. “And at that appointment they took my husband.”

Left alone with her children in an unfamiliar place, she struggled to make ends meet.

“I didn't know anyone here. I didn't know how to get around. I've only been here a week and they deported my husband so this left me alone with three kids and no one else,” she recounted.

She and the others urged Miller-Meeks to ensure other families wouldn’t have to go through this kind of separation.

“That day in the office when they took my husband, I was left alone. I felt like it was a joke on me. I didn’t know what to do,” she said through an interpreter. “We would like to…for this to stop. We don’t want this to happen to other families where they’re separated.”

Zinkula also urged Miller-Meeks to support comprehensive immigration reform and to be mindful of the dignity of immigrants.

“I join with my brother bishops from across the United States in requesting that you support comprehensive immigration reform,” Zinkula told her. “Church teaching supports the right of sovereign nations to control their borders but enforcement of borders must include the protection of the basic human rights and dignity of the migrant and not place lives at risk.”

Miller-Meeks, who is a practicing Catholic, told the advocates she was touched by their stories.

“I’m really moved by your circumstances. And I’m sorry you find yourself in these circumstances,” she told them. “I do think that there would be bipartisan support when it comes to Dreamers, children who come here with their parents.”

Miller-Meeks noted her criticism of the use of executive orders for passing immigration policy and suggested that separating out protections for Dreamers as a standalone proposal could earn more bipartisan support and could “go forward very rapidly." She said she hopes to see more bipartisan collaboration on immigration, with good faith negotiation between members of Congress and the Biden administration.

“If he's willing to work in a bipartisan fashion I'm willing to work in a bipartisan fashion with the president,” Miller-Meeks said.

Miller-Meeks’ statements Friday were in contrast with some of her campaign messaging, in which she voiced support for former President Donald Trump’s border wall and called for harsher treatment of undocumented immigrants.

“No safe haven for illegal immigrants,” read one of her campaign ads. “I will oppose sanctuary cities and work to make sure illegal immigrant do not receive taxpayer-funded benefits so our nation is no longer an inviting hideout for dangerous criminals.”

Opposition to legal and illegal immigration and the demonization of immigrants has been an animating issue in the GOP under the leadership of Trump. Biden’s administration has already begun taking steps to undo Trump’s legacy, including announcing plans to quadruple the amount of refugees admitted into the country.

As the meeting came to an end on Friday, Treviño urged Miller-Meeks “to do more” to represent undocumented Iowans and he closed with a prayer, calling on the group to open their hearts to immigrants.

“We build barriers in our hearts and our minds,” Treviño prayed. “Banish fear from our hearts, that we may embrace each of your children as our own brother and sister, to welcome migrants and refugees with joy and generosity.”