Immigration and the Changing Face of Rural America

Since 1980, the United States has admitted almost 15 million legal immigrants, including 3.5 million Mexicans. Most immigrants reside in urban areas, but an estimated 2 to 5 million are living in rural or agricultural areas.

The fruit, vegetable and specialty crop sector of U.S. agriculture has employed migrant and immigrant labor for decades. However, in the 1990s legal and unauthorized foreign workers spread beyond the Southwest and Florida to the Midwest, Northeast and South. Instead of migrating out of the area at the end of the season, many of the migrants settled in Arkansas, Delaware, Iowa and North Carolina with their families. As a result, the demographic face of many rural communities was changed. Immigration has raised new issues for many rural and agricultural communities, ranging from bilingual education to requests for providing public services in other languages.

Dr. Phil Martin of the University of California-Davis, received Farm Foundation support to host a series of workshops on immigration and the changing face of rural America. The conferences were a catalyst for prompting discussion among participants–including local and state policy leaders–of the trade-offs involved in the changing face of rural America. Martin also discussed changing face issues with the Bennett Agricultural Round Table members in January 1998, and presented a paper at the 1997 National Public Policy Education Conference on this topic. The paper, “Immigration and the Changing Nature of Rural Communities” is linked here.

In addition to Farm Foundation, the Changing Face of Rural America project has received support from the Giannini, Kellogg, Mellon and Rosenberg Foundations, respectively.

The Changing Faces Workshops:

  • The 2004 workshop was Sept. 9-10, in Parlier, Calif. Participants  examined the impact of mechanization and changes in immigration and welfare laws on the demand for farm workers, and the prospects for integrating immigrant farm workers and their children in rural communities.
  • The 2003 Immigration and Changing Face of Rural America workshop was May 18-20 at Salinas, Calif. This workshop reviewed Mexican migration into rural and agricultural areas of California in the 1990s, and examined interactions between farm employment, immigration, and poverty and wealth.
  • Two Changing Face conferences took place in April 2002.
  • The seventh Changing Face conference, “Immigration and the Changing Face of Rural California: Focus on the Imperial Valley and US-Mexican Border,” was Jan. 16-18, 2001, at the Barbara Worth Resort, Holtville, Calif.
  • The sixth Changing Face conference, “Immigration and the Changing Face of Rural California: Focus on the San Joaquin Valley,” was Sept. 10-12, 1998, at the University of California’s Kearney Agricultural Center, Parlier, Calif.
  • The fifth Changing Face conference, “Immigration and the Changing Face of Rural California and Rural America,” was March 24, 1998, at the Urban Institute, Washington, DC. The purpose of this conference was twofold: to discuss the federal policy implications of immigration into the agricultural areas of the U.S. The second was to update conditions in the industries and communities that were examined in Changing Face conferences between 1995 and 1997 to see how they are faring in light of new enforcement efforts and welfare and immigration reforms.
  • The fourth Changing Face conference was September 1997, in Newark, Del. It focused on how businesses and communities in the Delmarva Peninsula (Delaware, Maryland and Virginia) are coping with a changing work force and community population. The conference analyzed the poultry processing, crab processing, mushroom, and fruit and vegetable industries.
  • The conference, “Immigration and the Changing Face of Rural America: Focus on the Midwestern States,” was July 1996 at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. This conference addressed the impacts of a changing labor force in the Midwestern meatpacking industry and the effects on local communities.
  • “Immigration and the Changing Face of Rural California” conferences took place in June 1995, in Pacific Grove, Calif., and in April 1996, in Riverside, Calif. Participants at these conferences examined immigration and rural poverty issues associated with agriculture in California.

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