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Analyzing immigration in SW Minnesota

By Rae Kruger

rkruger@marshallindependent.com

 

Immigration is an economic issue in Marshall and five other communities, says Dr.  David Griffith who studied immigration issues in Marshall and other communities during 2002-03.

 

Griffith, a professor at East Carolina University whose work was funded by the U.S.D.A., presented a preview of his rough draft of his results Wednesday.  The draft will be available in mid-September and will be followed by the complete report, Griffith said.

 

In Marshall and in Marshalltown, Iowa, many people perceive immigration as central to economic growth in the community, Griffith said.

 

As youth continue to move from those towns, immigration needs to come, Griffith said.

 

Food is an economic tie in all six communities, Griffith said.

 

"The food industry is instrumental in fueling organized immigration," Griffith said.

 

Whether in Oregon, California, Iowa, Minnesota, Georgia or North Carolina, most immigrants are tied to food and agriculture.  They work in food processing, on produce farms, hog farms and in other agricultural related jobs, Griffith said.

 

Griffith cited Marshall immigrants who work at the Schwan Food Co.  and Turkey Valley Farms.  When Griffith was in Marshall about three years ago, the local turkey plant was closing and many immigrants their lost jobs.

 

Turkey Valley Farms bought the plant and has restored many jobs since then.

 

Food processing jobs are gateway jobs, Griffith said.

 

Immigrants take those jobs, and as they settle, learn English and other skills, and move into other jobs such as construction, landscaping, fast food, manufacturing and other jobs, Griffith said.  And others might start their own business such as a grocery store or restaurant.

 

His study showed that Marshall was welcoming to immigrants and that nearly 48 percent liked Marshall a lot, Griffith said.

 

"I did see that the school system, including Southwest Minnesota State University, has played an active role in integrating immigrants," Griffith said.

 

There is an increasing awareness of immigrants and their cultures in Marshall, Griffith said.

 

That awareness and welcome attitude is also found in nearby Walnut Grove which has a high population of Hmong immigrants, Griffith said.

 

The local school superintendent told him that when about 100 students moved in with about 21 Hmong families a few years ago, it saved the school, Griffith said.

 

Griffith also found that companies such as Schwan and others help integrate immigrants because of jobs and certain support of programs for immigrants.

 

Employers get a valuable benefit from immigration in the workers provided and they have an obligation in helping immigrants integrate, Griffith said.

 

Marshall compares favorably with the other communities, Griffith said.

 

Griffith and attendees shared some issues Marshall has continued to deal with and some newer issues.

 

Of the six communities, Marshall has the most diverse immigration population with significant numbers of Latino, Somali and Hmong immigrants, Griffith said.

 

"Marshall is distinct in that way,"''''' Griffith said.

 

Pat Thomas of Marshallıs Adult Basic Education system said Marshall is now more often becoming a place Somali immigrants want to stay instead of a place to learn more English and other skills and move on.

 

Abullahi Noor said a recent issue is the tribal conflicts Somali immigrants are having within the community.

 

Noor works with IFTIIN, an advocacy and translation organization for East African immigrants.

 

The civil war in Somalia is because of tribal conflict, and some immigrants have carried those feelings to Marshall, Abullahi Noor said.  Thomas said that is happening in part because immigrants are now living longer in Marshall instead of for only a few years.

 

Gustavo Estrada of the cityıs emerging leadership program said it can be tough to get immigrants to participate in the program which helps to train them to be leaders at work, on boards or in the community.

 

Griffith said programs that encourage leadership, that display a cultureıs food and customs, skills training and others are critical to immigrants and the community.

 

Griffithıs study was conducted and will be completed during a time of increased debate on immigration in the U.S., including illegal immigration.

 

Griffith said itıs important to know that many immigrant families have members who are legal U.S.  citizens and those who are not.  A broad deportation program is really anti-family, Griffith said.

 

When the Immigration and Naturalization Service raided a packing plant in Marshalltown in 1997, many moms and dads were deported.  Kids came home from school and there was no one at home, Griffith said.

 

"The legal status issue is tough," Griffith said.

 

 

 

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