Monday, February 20, 2017

Thriving Kansas town with a large immigrant population awaits Trump administration's policies

One rural Kansas town has found a blueprint for success: welcoming immigrants with open arms, Frank Morris reports for NPR. In Garden City, Kan. (Best Places map), only about 40 percent of the 27,000 residents are white non-Hispanics. An estimated 27 different languages are spoken, with residents having come largely from Mexico and Central America, but also from places such as Ethiopia, Myanmar, Somalia and Vietnam.

City manager Matt Allen said the town, which has an unemployment rate around 3 percent—the national average is 4.8—"has an economic system powered by a steady stream of irrigated corn and immigrant labor," Morris writes. Allen told Morris, "In this region, we pump water out of the ground to grow a tropical plant in the sand hills, in mass, so that we can feed cattle in mass, so that we can kill cattle in mass, so we can distribute beef in mass, and that requires a big workforce. That is the common thread through the economy." Morris writes, "All those workers, producing food that the rest of the country buys, bring wealth—in the form of stores, services and terrific ethnic restaurants—to the remote western Kansas town."

"But Garden City's model—a vibrant economy built in a difficult environment by welcoming decades of immigrant labor—faces three distinct challenges," Morris writes. One challenge is that the flow of immigrants has recently dried up, largely because of President Trump's increased enforcement of immigration. That's bad news for local industries like meatpacking that are difficult professions with high turnover rates.

Another challenge is that the city wants immigrants to know they are welcome, but fears that stance could attract some bad characters. Last year "three men were charged with plotting a terrorist attack on a mosque and apartment complex in Garden City," Morris writes.

The third challenge is that local law enforcement could be forced "to check the immigration status of otherwise law-abiding citizens," Morris writes. Finney County Sheriff Kevin Bascue, who said officers will continue to cooperate fully with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, told Morris, "I think that the threat to this community is the ending of what we've worked so hard over many, many years to happen here. The relationship built between police and the town's valued immigrant population. I think our community would be a dying community without the immigrants that have come in to fill in the gaps and to grow business."

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