November 7, 2016 | By Sara McElmurry

Addressing Rural America’s Immigration Paradox

Eye-opening new analysis from The Wall Street Journal shows that immigrants and refugees are most maligned in rapidly diversifying rural Midwest—the very communities that arguably depend the most on their presence.

Arcadia, Wisconsin, the stagnating dairy town profiled in the piece, exemplifies the challenges rural residents face in accepting newcomers as economic lifelines instead of cultural threats. It also epitomizes the urgent need for immigrant integration efforts to take the sting away from demographic change.

Arcadia’s local economy depends on its dairy farms, and, as of late, those same farms depend on foreign-born labor—mostly immigrants from Mexico and Central America—to stay in business. Immigrants have flocked to the town to work, offsetting the loss of native-born residents and filling the resulting gaps in the workforce. The town, nearly all white in 2000, is now more than one-third Latino.

Some local residents have had a hard time managing this change, as the Journal article showed. They grumbled about the “way things have changed” in the town, “noisy” parties with Spanish-language music, and how local schools are “unfairly” accommodating students from migrant families. Local leaders responded with policies designed to maintain the status quo: a proposal declaring English the town’s official language, laws limiting the display of foreign flags, and housing rules aimed at Hispanic tenants.

Ultimately most of these measures did not find support, which may be because alienating newcomers is not a sound long-term policy. The future vibrancy of rural America depends on its ability to successfully integrate this new demography.

Integration is long, hard work, but there’s good news for rural communities with so much at stake in getting this right.  Research suggests that small towns may have an innate advantage over their urban counterparts when it comes to successful integration, advantage rooted in their size itself. Whereas the large numbers of immigrants in urban melting pots can create isolating ethnic enclaves, the comparatively limited public infrastructure of rural life promotes interaction and integration. A town’s residents shop at the same grocery store because, often, there is just one grocery store. Their children enroll in the same school—the only school. New neighbors attend the same house of worship; they picnic in the same parks.

This constant interaction causes short-term friction and discomfort, but in the long term proximity fosters integration, even though many services designed to help integrate immigrants—ESL courses, civics workshops, entrepreneurship resources—are largely lacking in rural communities. And it explains how today’s immigrants, particularly those in these “new gateways” are integrating at least as quickly as—if not quicker than—previous waves of immigrants.

Local governments are thus well-positioned to usher along interaction and integration, and communities across the Midwest have emerged as leaders in this space. Examples of promising practices that can readily translate to rural communities include:

  • A series of cultural awareness events that unite immigrant and native-born residents in Grand Island, Nebraska.
  • Community conversations that strengthen relationships between immigrant-owned businesses and neighborhoods in Dayton, Ohio.
  • A program that engages long-term resident volunteers in personally welcoming new arrivals in Minneapolis.
  • A growing database of volunteer interpreters in Columbus, Ohio.

 

The urgency of embracing change is not unique to Arcadia. Large inflows of immigrants and refugees have brought demographic vitality, lower rates of unemployment, and wage growth to languishing rural communities across the country.

So in these same places, where Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant platform has gained traction—Trump won primary victories in 73 percent of counties where diversity doubled since 2000, and 80 percent where it rose by 150 percent—local governments should make immigrant integration a priority.

Integration starts when rural residents understand an urgent reality: embracing demographic change is perhaps the only way their rural way of life can stay the same. 

About

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. We convene leading global voices and conduct independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization. All statements of fact and expressions of opinion in blog posts are the sole responsibility of the individual author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council.

Archive


| By Madeleine Nicholson

Fragile States and Pandemics: Why Preparedness Cannot Happen in a Vacuum

The second largest Ebola outbreak in history is raging on in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and international response has been comparatively quiet. Given the DRC’s recent historical similarities to Sierra Leone, the country that suffered the most cases and deaths during the 2014 outbreak, it is imperative that the world take notice and provide a rapid and holistic response.


Wait Just a Minute: Karen Donfried

German Marshall Fund president and former member of the National Security Council, Karen Donfried answers questions on a post-Merkel Germany, if Russia can be contained without the United States, and why Americans should care about European affairs.




| By Brian Hanson, Lesley Carhart, Adam Segal

Deep Dish: Chinese Cyber Attacks and Industrial Espionage

The massive Marriott records breach was the latest in a series of economic espionage cases attributed to China. Top cybersecurity experts Lesley Carhart and Adam Segal join this week's Deep Dish podcast to discuss the evolving tactical and policy challenges involved in managing international cyber space.


Wait Just a Minute: David Sanger

David Sanger, national security correspondent and senior writer for the New York Times, answers questions on cyberattacks: why they've become the new weapon of choice for foreign adversaries, the most likely suspects behind the next cyberattack, and who he'd most like to interview on the subject.



| By Victoria Williams

Top 8 Most Watched Programs in 2018

As 2018 comes to a close, we invite you to look back at the most watched Council programs of 2018.


| By Brian Hanson, Gregory Johnsen

Deep Dish: The War in Yemen

The war in Yemen has created one of the greatest unseen humanitarian tragedies in the world. It finally drew public attention after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, which triggered a debate about US involvement in the war.



| By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week's Reads: Russia's Crimea Campaign Enters the Kerch Strait

A recent incident between Russia and Ukraine in the Kerch Strait may seem minor, but the stakes are real. If this action by Russia goes unpunished, it could pave the way for Russia to take more territory in eastern Ukraine to establish a land-bridge between Russia and Crimea, which President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed in 2014.


| By Iain Whitaker

Podium Notes: 20 Eye-Opening Stats From the Council's 2018 Programs

Trade wars, false missile warnings, "babble fish earbuds", and Germany's World Cup whimper: 2018 was a year that sometimes defined description, at least in words. But the numbers tell a story of their own, so here's a smattering of startling stats mentioned on the Council's stage in 2018. To view the full clip, click on the numbers! (These figures were stated by guest speakers and have not been verified by the Council)