Julio is gone



A little boy from 22 years ago was top of mind last Thursday as President Trump bloviated on the TV during his visit to Iowa, where he closed a jobs-training roundtable with another tirade on immigration. “We can’t have people with open borders,” the President said at Northeast Iowa Community College in Peosta, a 15-minute drive from Dubuque.

Sitting with him were Gov. Kim Reynolds and U.S. Rep. Rod Blum, both Republicans facing stiff challenges in November. Trump couldn’t thank Blum enough — though he called him by the wrong name a couple of times — and Reynolds has done wonders without doubt in his mind.

We were thinking about a boy we lost: Julio Barroso.

In 1996 the world changed for Julio, then in second grade at North School. He was the teacher’s pet. He helped other students learn English. Everyone loved Julio. Then the immigration agents came. They swooped in on IBP, predecessor to Tyson, and rounded up scores of undocumented immigrants. Barroso’s family was among them.

The headline in our paper read: “Julio is gone.”

He thought he was going on vacation.

We wondered about him, even searched for him, for years.

Today, Julio Barroso is slaughtering chickens 85 hours a week in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.

Our general assignment reporter Tom Cullen found Barroso and contacted him 2,000 miles away via cellphone last Wednesday. Julio, now 30 years old, is married and the father of three and working for one-tenth the $18 per hour he could get in Storm Lake. In fact, Tom learned, Julio had been working at Rembrandt for four years and we didn’t know it. He had a different name and no real papers. He simply wanted to live in Storm Lake. He went back to Jalisco to tend to his ailing father and could not return. They had locked down the border and only a person with money could afford a coyote to cross. A dream is foreclosed.

Julio thinks of what might have been. He wanted to go to college, like so many Dreamers do at Iowa Central Community College or Buena Vista University. They are our vitality, our future. They want to stay here with family, unlike so many of us who push our children off to Chicago or the Twin Cities.

This has become a town wrapped up in world trade, culture and politics. Now, that trade and that culture are threatened by those politics — the politics of President Trump.

“Farmers love me,” Trump said in Iowa. In fact, farmers are taking a beating on Trump’s tariffs with our three largest customers: China, Mexico and Canada. They hope this trade war will end before they go broke, and they shake their heads at the idea of a handout from Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. It makes everybody nervous: farmer, banker, editor and pickup dealer.

And the 3,000 or so Latinos, maybe half undocumented – who knows? – are worrying not just about jobs but also about their lives in Trump’s America. Will they be the next Julios? They wonder. Even those with papers will tell you they feel a little edgy. The police feel it. They say that people who used to talk don’t come forward as much.

We know that without them, Storm Lake and Buena Vista County well could fade away as 67 of Iowa’s 99 counties do, decade after decade. Here, young immigrant families seed a positive birth-to-death ratio. Storm Lake is the rare rural community that is growing organically — with brown babies. The crime rate here has been falling over the decade.

We need help in Iowa, and especially in Storm Lake. Tyson needs good maintenance technicians at over $20 per hour. But the white kids aren’t bidding for that job. They’ve moved off for an engineering degree.

On Thursday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told the roundtable in Peosta: “The jobs are there. Where are the skilled workers to fill those jobs?”

Where? They are in the shadows. They are in Mexico.

We in Storm Lake don’t want to scare off the Latina attending Buena Vista who wants to be a teacher. We are horrified by family separation of refugees. We all would like order at the border. And we all wish that Julio could come home to Storm Lake someday. 

We need him and miss him.