As it turns out, Hispanic immigration into rural areas has become commonplace. Between 1980 and 2010, the Hispanic population in the United States increased 246% from 14.6 million to 50.5 million. In the 1980’s, growth of the Hispanic population was concentrated in metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Houston, and Miami. However, since the 1990’s, the Hispanic population’s growth has been rapid in non-metropolitan communities, particularly in the Southeast and Midwest. For example, in Grady County, Georgia, the Hispanic population almost doubled to 2,282 within a six year span from 2000 to 2006. In Ulysses, Kansas, a town with a population of approximately 6,000, is now half Hispanic. In Beardstown, Illinois, approximately one third of their 6,000 person population is Hispanic. In 1990, 99.3% of Beardstown’s population was born in the United States; by 2009, 17.3% of the population was foreign-born.
It may seem odd that immigrants would want to move to small towns which were previously ethnically homogeneous. But the reason for moving into rural areas makes sense; in fact, it’s why many people would move to a foreign state and start over. Many Hispanics immigrated to rural areas for work, particularly to work in the food processing industry. During the 1980’s and 1990’s, numerous meat-processing plants were relocated to rural areas. These plants needed upwards of 2,500 workers, and immigrants were able to fill these low-skilled positions.
The results of immigration into rural communities have been mixed. A positive result is that immigration has offset the population decline that rural communities have experienced over the last few years. In a 2007 study, the Census Bureau estimated that 1,220 of the nation’s 3,141 counties have declined in population since 2000. Most of the losses occurred in rural counties in the Great Plains, northern and central Appalachia, and regions of the rural South and West. However, in 1,054 of those counties, the Hispanic population increased, which minimized overall population losses. Without the growth of Hispanics in these counties, the overall population loss would have exceeded 2.2 million. Such a great population loss can result in economic devastation of a town. For example, places such as Ulysses, Kansas previously had strips of abandoned stores and empty houses. However, immigrants have helped revitalize this town. Fore more thoughts on Ulysses, see this post.
Other natives from small towns feel immigration has had negative impacts, such as Hispanic immigrants taking jobs and sending money back to Mexico instead of investing in the community. Some natives just want to hold on to the idea of “how it used to be.” However, whether immigrants are “taking jobs” is debatable as it raises the question of whether these are jobs that locals would even want in the first place. Whether a community views immigration positively or negatively, the fact remains that Hispanic immigration has expanded from metropolitan areas to more rural areas, and diversity in these small towns is sure to increase as immigrants continue to build their homes and lives in these communities.