Pete Buttigieg, making a bid for rural voters in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses, proposed Tuesday to repopulate struggling communities by offering special visas to immigrants who agree to move to those towns. 

The “community renewal” visas would be targeted to communities that have lost working-age population over the last 10 years as well as smaller cities that are lagging economically. Under the proposal, which is included in a rural policy plan Buttigieg unveiled while campaigning in Iowa, visa holders would be eligible to apply for green cards after living in the targeted community for at least three years. 

“We have a plan to help grow jobs, to help grow population, and to help grow infrastructure that’s going to make sure that rural America can actually succeed going forward,” the South Bend, Ind., mayor told reporters during a stop at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. 

Buttigieg said the visa proposal is based on the idea that depressed areas need “not just a job growth strategy but a population--growth strategy.” He emphasized that communities could choose whether or not to participate in the visa program. 

Other proposals in Buttigieg’s plan overlap with plans released by former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and others. 

To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Buttigieg proposes offering financial incentives to farmers to encourage carbon-conserving practices. He also calls for tougher enforcement of antitrust laws to protect farmers from the market power of agribusiness interests, and he proposes steps to expand rural broadband. 

Buttigieg wants the Justice Department to investigate the recent mergers in the seed business that combined Dow and DuPont, and Bayer and Monsanto. 

“The growing market power of corporations—particularly among processing plants and seed companies—means that the reinvigoration of the rural economy depends on a new era of heightened scrutiny of corporate mergers,” Buttgieg’s plan says. “By restoring balance for family farms and other rural workers, more of their earnings will stay in their own pockets.”

His plan also proposes tightening federal labor law to ensure the right of farmworkers and domestic workers to organize. He "will ensure that these workers are protected by labor and employment law, and that they are empowered to continue and expand the use of existing strategies, like consumer pressure campaigns and worker-driven social responsibility programs, to achieve a more dignified workplace," the plan says. 

Buttigieg accused the Trump administration of paying lip service to rural America and called out Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue for repeating a recent joke that referred to two farmers in a basement as a “whine cellar.” 

“You begin to realize they don’t actually care” about rural voters, Buttigieg said. 

Buttigieg came in a respectable fifth in a poll released last week of likely Iowa caucus goers. He was supported by 8% of those surveyed for the Monmouth University poll, just behind Sanders' 9%. Biden led the poll at 28%.

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