Reporting from Newton, Iowa—
Less than two months into Rick Perry’s presidential candidacy, a record on illegal immigration that served him well politically as a border-state governor is proving a tough sell with voters looking toward Iowa’s Republican caucuses this winter.
It came up unbidden in the crowd of neighbors waiting recently for the Texas governor to drop by Uncle Nancy’s Coffeehouse in Newton, the former corporate home of the washing-machine giant Maytag.
“I’m not sure I like Perry’s approach to immigration,” said Doug Ringger, a retired Maytag marketing man. “That concerns me a little bit — or a lot. I haven’t heard him say we need to seal the borders.”
Iowa voters are not alone in expressing such concerns, though they might seem jarring in a state whose small towns and cornfields are hundreds of miles from the nation’s southern border. The state has faced little of the political turmoil over illegal immigration that has long been a staple of politics in California, Arizona, Texas and other places that are home to greater numbers of undocumented workers.
But the 2008 arrest of nearly 400 illegal immigrants at a meatpacking plant in Postville highlighted the arrival of undocumented workers in Iowa as never before. At the same time, the growth of Iowa’s Latino population has sparked discomfort among some of the white conservatives who dominate the Republican caucuses.