From the desk of the executive director: immigration reshaping small towns

Rural America is often characterized as mostly white and a place with few immigrants. Those of us who work in small towns across the country know this generalization is slowly being swept aside. Across the country, small towns are being reshaped by new waves of immigration. 

Take Schuyler, in east central Nebraska, for example. This town once struggled to attract new residents, but the population is now more than 6,000 and is 65 percent Latino. As Mayor David Reinecke says, “Schuyler would be dead without Latinos.” Newcomers are breathing renewed life into the business sector and enhancing the cultural vibrancy of the town.

With these changes come challenges. Front and center for new immigrants today is a turbulent political landscape. Policies such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) are threatened. This despite a recent NBC poll that found 66 percent support for the policy, and a Washington Post poll that found 87 percent support for the policy.

Comprehensive immigration reform continues to draw bipartisan support from the public, the business community, and lawmakers. Nevertheless, it cannot find political traction in D.C. 

The Center continues to call on Congress to take action to address immigration policy. At the same time, we have recommitted ourselves to making progress in local communities. Our work is three-fold.

As demographics shift, we are working with both the receiving community and the new immigrant community to create more welcoming and inclusive towns. We embrace the change because we know that diversity makes us stronger and more resilient.

We are also building local leadership capacity. Our staff work with local leaders (both new immigrants and long-time residents) to build skills and confidence for newcomers to serve as leaders within their community. We know our work must take root at the local level to be successful. 

Finally, we are working with new immigrants on small business and new farm development. To be full participants in their community, new immigrants must have the opportunity to start their own enterprises and become part of the local business fabric. We have expanded our business and farm training, coaching, and lending to serve new immigrants. 

Throughout our work with new immigrants, our values guide us to come together despite our differences, and to work together for a better future. We invite you to join us in this shared work to create strong, welcoming, and vibrant small towns.

Feature photo: As the dynamics of rural America shift, we are working with both the receiving and the new immigrant communities to create more welcoming and inclusive towns, like Hastings, Nebraska. | Photo by Rhea Landholm