Immigration has always been an important topic, but in recent years its impact has dominated headlines, all levels of government and nearly every major American industry.


As a professional chef who has worked in the Des Moines restaurant world for eight years and currently prepares meals at a day care, I know our industry would collapse without foreign-born workers. They contribute along every point of the food supply chain, from farming and packing to cooking and serving. I’ve sweated alongside them in the clamor of hectic kitchens and can personally attest that they are some of the hardest workers I’ve ever met.

Right now, the restaurant industry is growing rapidly. In Iowa alone, restaurant and food service jobs are expected to increase by 10.3 percent to a total of 171,500 jobs by 2028. At the same time, workers aged 16-24, who currently represent about 4 in 10 restaurant employees, are expected to sharply decline, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to Bruce Grindy, the chief economist of the National Restaurant Association, this means foreign-born employees will be “increasingly important to the restaurant industry’s ability to expand and create jobs in the years ahead.”

American and immigrant residents here increasingly understand the important contributions that immigrants and their children make. In my district, which comprises greater Des Moines and beyond, 1,087 immigrants run their own businesses, and each year the immigrant population pays more than $317.7 million in taxes, according to New American Economy. It stands to reason that our diversifying population could solve my industry’s looming labor shortage. For example, we should welcome people of Hispanic and Asian descent who make up 26 percent and 7.4 percent of the restaurant and food service industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hispanics, in particular, tend to be younger than the general population, according to Pew. This means their growing population in the state could very well make up for the restaurant industry’s expected loss of 16-to-24-year-olds.

Policies that encourage immigrants to contribute to our economy appeal to a wide range of people, including sought-after voting groups such as white, college-educated professional Iowa moms like me. I’ve dedicated so much of this past year to advocating for immigration policies that honor the dignity of new Americans because I want my daughter to grow up in a strong, vibrant and diverse America. That’s why we settled in Beaverdale, where my daughter can attend school alongside our neighbors who are immigrants and students of color.

Embracing all of Des Moines’ diversity benefits all of Des Moines. Our city’s dining scene is thriving with more than 40 new restaurants opening in 2018 alone. Local residents can travel the world through the variety of cuisines - from Thai rolled ice cream or Filipino-Pakistani fusion to gastro pups and classic Americana - offered right here at home. If we want to keep enjoying the global tastes of the city’s east side and the growing options in the greater metro area, let’s remember that foreign-born people keep these kitchens running. Without them, the restaurant industry would collapse.

We need to embrace immigrants and make this country a welcoming place for all - for the sake of our economy, our communities and our children.