DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said Tuesday that anti-immigrant sentiment in rural America declines when residents know and appreciate the role of those moving into their communities.
It's the thinking behind a provision in a rural economic plan introduced by the South Bend, Indiana, mayor that would enable local towns and counties to seek work visas for immigrants to fill the many empty positions in labor-hungry rural America.
"Very rural, very conservative areas are much more open on immigration when they personally know immigrants," Buttigieg told reporters while strolling the grounds of the Iowa State Fair after addressing an audience of several hundred people. "People have been told immigration is the problem. I think it does change the way we look at things versus when it's kind of all this fear of the unknown."
Of the more than half a dozen rural plans proposed by Democratic White House hopefuls, Buttigieg's is the only one that would empower local government, as corporations already do, to seek work visas for immigrants.
"The Community Renewal Visa concept is a creative way to get communities more engaged in inviting immigrants into the community and could potentially reduce some of the fear and concern that surrounds the immigration debate today," said former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, an ex-U.S. secretary of agriculture who is advising several candidates, including Buttigieg, but has not made an endorsement.
By suggesting a process for local officials to identify their own workforce needs and pair visa requests to those needs, current residents may feel less concern that the newcomers are taking jobs they would otherwise fill. Ideally, the visa program creates the possibility of greater acceptance of immigrants into a community.
Buttigieg was on the outset of a three-day trip through eastern Iowa and planned to stop in counties that Democrat Barack Obama won in carrying Iowa in 2012, but that flipped to Republican Donald Trump in 2016.