Sunday, December 16, 2007

Immigration and Rural America

Since I've been researching and writing these past few months on the topic of immigration and the rural South, I found myself somewhat surprised at this story which appeared in the New York Times this week. The story features Storm Lake, a micropolitan area of about 10,000 in the northwest part Iowa. Rural areas like Storm Lake began experiencing an influx of Latina/os about two decades ago, primarily for employment in the meatpacking industry. As some folks quoted in this story acknowledge, immigration has saved towns like Storm Lake from shriveling up, given the shrinking rural economies and the accompanying population loss that previously plagued them.

Call me naive, but I expected a greater, more consistent appreciation for the economic shot in the arm that immigration has provided to places like Storm Lake. This NYT story, however, indicates considerable resentment, as well as a misplaced sense that the immigrants -- many of them admittedly illegal -- are competing with long-time residents for jobs. In fact, various studies indicate that this is not the case. Rather, most indications are that as immigrants come in to do work that the native population is no longer willing to do, the native population have an opportunity to move up the labor hierarchy. Perhaps if there were a greater understanding of this reality, long-time rural residents and Latina/o newcomers could stop focusing on their differences and begin to see that which could unite them: shared values such as family and hard work.

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