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:

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