Rural Areas Need to Embrace Immigrants
Debate Rounds (3)
A recent idea for America's rural brain drain problem being quietly muttered by a few concerned citizens is the embracement of those coming from rural Mexico and Latin America, those who may not be citizens themselves: immigrants.
Rural brain drain is a casual term representing the gradual, yet accumulatively mass exodus of young people from rural America. The resultant effects include aging populations and severe population loss, but also extensive consequences developing from those obvious outcomes, such as failing local economies, rife unemployment, shrinking wages and benefits, low school enrollment, unsustainable development, lack of good teachers and health care providers, and few companies to invest in local infrastructure like internet, libraries and recreational facilities. One in four rural counties lost over five percent of their population from 1990 to 2000 (McGranahan and Beale 2002) and, thus, that subsequent growth from those families.
When young people move to colleges and universities, likely urban centers, they are exposed to economic opportunities, conveniences and services inaccessible in their rural origin. The now educated youth stay in urban America, even encouraged by their families to not return to the increasingly ghost-like rural hometowns. (Though the same story is true of rural Mexico and Latin America, except youth flee to both urban centers and north to the United States, I will only be talking about rural brain in the United States.)
Though the exchange of ideas in these urban areas is crucial to economic progress and progress in general, maintaining towns in rural America and Mexico is crucial for food production, natural resource preservation and employment, thus a truly vital economy and a unified nation. In addition, future developments in renewable energy and sustainable agriculture necessitate the huge land tracts, as well as the history and expertise of rural areas. Rural areas are necessary, so it is necessary to address rural brain drain.
Anyone who has spent a decent amount of time in a rural area can observe tension between the local population and immigrants, a foreign, usually Spanish-speaking population – the "speak English" bumper sticker, etc. I think is fair to say immigrants are not currently embraced in most rural towns.
The main reason for this is the shaky assumption that immigrants, the majority of indeed present illegally from Latin America, create a reserve pool of labor that keeps wages suppressed in agricultural jobs and jobs from American citizens in general. However, the real situation seems to be that these jobs are so dangerous and laborious that very few Americans are willing to do them. Evidence can be seen in the government's H2A guestworker program, where farm owners are required to pay agricultural "guest workers" federal minimum wage with free housing and transport to and from their home country. Many Americans work for minimum wage, without free housing, yet farm owners must use these programs to fill the labor shortages. American citizens won't take these jobs.
Until Americans take these jobs, like it or not, immigrant current and increasing presence in rural areas is fixed. With populations low in rural areas and schools in need of more children simply to keep the doors open, why not embrace immigrants? Immigrants provide immediate population growth to rural areas, children to keep local schools open, and a larger customer base for local businesses. Some states, such as Iowa, already see embracement of immigrants as a way to address the effects of rural brain drain. One of their mottos for comprehensively transforming rural economies has become "talent, technology and tolerance" (Carr and Kefalas 2009: 122).
Though immigrants can simply provide population growth to these rural areas and reduce rural brain drain in this manner, they also have a unique ability to do even more.
If rural areas also become more accepting, more people -- young Americans -- will consider these communities good places to live. They will begin to return to their hometowns to start their families and businesses. They will attract better health providers and teachers, which will in turn lead to better infrastructure for things like parks and libraries and allow towns to progress.
Sociologists often break down successful progression and vitality of a community into an abundance of several forms of capital, one of the most foundational being social capital, or simply how willingly people move beyond self and familial interest to think about the future and well-being of the entire community. Social capital is collaboration by all to make community decisions and has two halves to its whole: bonding social capital and bridging social capital. Bonding is networks between individuals and groups with homogenous backgrounds and goals. Bridging is connections between all groups, even groups outside the community, resulting in heterogeneity and inclusive decision-making.
Rural towns are considered by sociologists to have "strong boundaries" because of their high bonding social capital paired with low bridging capital. Rural communities are homogenous communities that view outsiders with suspicion of change they represent. In this situation, only insiders are trusted and thus only insiders are given opportunities or included in community planning. This causes exclusion of newcomers, immigrants or not. You can see how it would be difficult to move back to such an "exclusive" community after being exposed to university or urban life.
In communities with both bonding and bridging, such as urban centers or college towns, "progressive participation" occurs, in which the future and prosperity of all interests are taken into account. With both, collaborative action occurs and this high social capital spurs subsequent financial, built, natural, political, cultural and human capital, i.e. progress… the progress necessary to stop rural brain drain, to make rural areas just as desirable to live in as urban centers. If rural areas have "progressive participation," they could progress!
That being said, it will be no easy task for rural communities to become more accepting and it will be no easy task for immigrants to suddenly feel welcome in the community where they were first received with hostility and hate. Immigrants within these communities have neither bonding or bridging social capital because of this way were first treated by their neighbors, employers and the community at large. This causes them to be "extreme individualists," where they may perpetuate inequalities by apathy for this originally hostile community.
We need programs and initiatives focused on outreach and cultural appreciation. We need a value shift in rural areas. We also need policy makers and planners in these rural areas to see that immigrants have equal and approachable access to such things as high-quality education, recreational facilities and public programs. Assuring equal access, outreach and reverse of symbolic laws will reduce apathy of immigrants in rural areas and encourage collaboration. Because immigrants often work in factories and farms, they have long hours, so policy makers should set meetings at times and places they can afford to attend.
Immigrants are the new class of Americans. They can help us save the rural Heartland. Let us embrace them. It will be better for everyone.
The United States is currently trying to fight its way out of a severe recession, and nobody is being harder hit than rural areas. Once every rural American has a job for themselves, then they can focus on further expansion.
Please excuse the brevity of my opening argument, but I feel that the charts I've found speak for themselves and I look forward to elaborating in the next round of this debate.
In case the images don't load properly, here are the URLs:
In this post I will elaborate on what I mentioned in my previous post that counters your belief that Americans would actually take immigrants hold. Though I will focus on this aspect of your argument, I would also like to say I agree with your graphs in that 1) yes, immigration has increased, and that 2) yes, unemployment has risen; However, there are many variables in reasons for that unemployment, including outsourcing, automation, globalization/competition, the list goes on and on. To say immigration is the most major cause of unemployment is not valid.
I will discuss evidence on why Americans are not and will not take the jobs, including reasons for the H2A program of the US government, conversations with farmers and the United Farm Worker's ‘Take Our Jobs' campaign.
First, let me make myself clear, I agree that Americans should take these jobs over immigrants, but the issue is simple, Americans aren't willing to do this work. I'll explain.
As I mentioned in my previous post, there is an assumption immigrants drag the wages in these types of jobs so low American aren't willing to do them. If this were true, why does the H2A program exist? From my previous post: "The main reason for [tension between ruralites and immigrants] is the shaky assumption that immigrants, the majority of which are indeed present illegally from Latin America, create a reserve pool of labor that keeps wages suppressed in agricultural jobs and jobs from American citizens in general. However, the real situation seems to be that these jobs are so dangerous and laborious that very few Americans are willing to do them. Evidence can be seen in the government's H2A guestworker program, where farm owners are required to pay agricultural "guest workers" federal minimum wage with free housing and transport to and from their home country. Many Americans work for minimum wage, without free housing, yet farm owners must use these programs to incentivize laborers and fill the labor shortages." Let me repeat, American citizens won't take these jobs…Until Americans take these jobs, like it or not, immigrant current and increasing presence in rural areas is fixed.
On the same note, in my experience working with food producers (producer being a more respectable word for farmer), Americans cannot be found to take the jobs. I am studying Sustainable Food Systems at NC State, a land-grant institution founded on agriculture, and through my curriculum, I have visited many small-scale and mid-size farms and have talked with many of those producers. Those producers have said they can't find Americans to do these jobs immigrants often do, some examples being pickers for fruits and vegetables, meatpackers in factories and dishwashers. The only Americans they can find are high schoolers looking for summer jobs, a temporary and unreliable source. When I ask about labor laws, producers get very defensive. They hate hiring immigrant labor, they hate that immigrants do not speak English, they hate visits from the state's Department of Labor and their laws, they hate the minimum wage laws, but they simply cannot find Americans to do the jobs. If they could, they would.
This being said, even with immigrant labor, there are shortages in labor for agriculture. Arturo Rodriguez, president of United Farm Workers (UFW), testified in Congress in September 2010 on this issue, speaking about one way he thought this shortage of labor could be addressed while making immigrants more comfortable: the Ag Jobs bill. (My argument is not focusing on this bill, but FYI, the Ag Jobs bill is a compromise between agribusinesses and agricultural workers to increase conditions for workers by providing a path to legal residency for workers who continue to work in agriculture, thereby better guaranteeing a permanent labor force in agriculture.)
Rodriguez spoke in Congress on behalf of all farm workers, including the "� of all farm workers that are born outside the country today." Rodriguez highlighted the UFW's ‘Take Our Jobs' campaign. He said,"We did invite citizens and legal residents [to take our jobs]. Since June 24, we received 8,600 inquiries through our website, but only 7 people have accepted those jobs on a full-time basis and continue to work in agriculture" (takeourjobs.org and youtube.com/watch?v=AKRyHkWzlGE&feature=player_embedded). So in a time span of 3 months, they receive 8,600 inquiries into the jobs, but only 7 accepted the jobs. That is only 7 Americans took an immigrant's job out of 8,600.
If Americans would take the jobs, there would not be an H2A program, producers would not complain about labor shortages in a time of unemployment and the UFW would not have their campaign.
If you do think immigrants bring wages down, how high would the wages have to be to get Americans to do this work? And are other Americans willing to pay that much more for their food just for their fellow CITIZEN to have a job?
I do not think they would. I think immigrants are here to stay and they do have the potential to save our rural areas in all the ways I highlighted previously, so why not embrace this potential and stop kidding ourselves that Americans will ever do these jobs?
But the way you're arguing this issue, it sounds like you're making a moral debate. You're making a moral point, one that I might agree with, but that's irrelevant. I believe that people have control over their own morals, not taking outside control from government or anybody else. If the government isn't going to stop immigration, it's not the citizens' responsibility to always welcome new people who are taking the jobs that could, albeit with some necessity for adaptation, be theirs, in a time when many of them need jobs themselves.
I'm not a big fan stifling labor laws, but labor reform is the much lesser of two evils in this case. If stronger labor rights are guaranteed for the unemployed American citizens, then we will be able to get much more out of the American economy with the resources we already have. After it's stabilized, then we can look to take more people into the fold and actually expect people from middle America to accept them.
The adaptation to labor laws you mentioned sounds great and I agree with it in theory, but realistically that would take food producers and factory owners paying workers more than the 7, 8, 9 dollars an hour they receive now, or the $25 dollars per ton of sweet potatoes (ncfarmworkers.org), to something more like 20, 21, 22 dollars per hour or $75 per ton of sweet potatoes just to get Americans to take the jobs. The third biggest input in agriculture is labor and this would draw food prices up so high, Americans would not be willing to pay the social and societal costs of employing citizens over immigrants. If you went with labor reform that would try to make the jobs less dangerous and less laborious to attract Americans, there are only small improvements that could be made to change these conditions. For one thing, as Stephen Colbert said, "soil is not waist level." Also, food producers are under pressure from consumers to make food more and more efficiently and, unfortunately, the only way they can do that is to push their laborers hard and keep labor expenses down.
One thing that could realistically work to stop (illegal) immigrants from coming in the first place is stricter immigration laws on future influx. Food producers would then have to rely on the H2A program to get immigrants legally. This would mean immigrants would have to go back to their home country at the end of the season and the rural areas would not have to "take them on" as you said. As for the immigrants who are here now, they are here for good.
The only solution is for rural areas to see the value in shifting their morals to embrace the immigrants, which will make their rural towns more inclusive and thereby attract more young Americans back to create new jobs that they (Americans) will actually do. This can be done through outreach and welcoming programs as I mentioned in post 1.
Thank you for sharing your point of view!
MAIN SOURCES FOR ALL POSTS:
Conclusions and Implications of New Patterns of Hispanic Settlement in Rural America
Rural Hispanics at a glance:
Hired Farmworkers as Major Input For Some US Farm Sectors
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