Rural People Have To Be More Accepting of Immigrants

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Rural People Have To Be More Accepting of Immigrants


by Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News


We are at a difficult juncture in the future of rural Minnesota. Who will be the future generations that fill the jobs in our factories and small businesses? Who will fill our classrooms? Who will sit next to us in church? Who will buy the groceries, hardware goods, drug prescriptions, home decorative items, and other things that keep the doors open in our retail community?

Who will keep our hospital open, both through being the patients and the medical providers?

We know they aren’t all likely to be the children of those already living here – too many of our young people move away. We know it isn’t going to be white immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, England or other European countries. Rather, just as with our forefathers and mothers, it will be people seeking opportunity, fleeing persecution and political strife, and fleeing hunger. They will come from Mexico, Southeast Asia, Africa, the Middle East and other parts of the world.

But at the same time that rural America is dying it is rejecting the people who would bring life and energy back to our communities.

This past week The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation released a survey that looks at attitudes and beliefs of those living in rural areas and small towns of the nation as compared to those living in big cities and urban areas. They wanted to get a better idea of how those attitudes and beliefs shaped the 2016 election aiding Donald Trump’s win in the presidential election.

Trump saw a 26-percentage point margin of victory in America’s rural areas providing him with wins in crucial states such as Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Iowa, The Washington Post reported in a story on the survey. In Swift County, which was reflective of the rural American vote, voters favored the Republican candidate for only the fourth time in 100 years and for the first time since 1952.

Trump won Swift County decisively getting 59.9 percent of the vote. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton got just 33.6 percent. Former Democratic President Obama received 53.7 percent of the county’s vote in 2012. Why the big turnaround in a county that is thought of as predominantly democratic? The answer is the same one given for other rural areas of the country.

“America’s cultural divide runs deep,” the survey says. “While rural and urban Americans share some economic challenges, they frequently diverge on questions of culture and values. On few issues are they more at odds than immigration.”

It was one of the divides that then Republican presidential candidate Trump exploited to the fullest, deepening fears of immigrants with his stories of the horrendous crimes they committed, of their stealing American jobs, of their freeloading off the American taxpayer, and of their not fitting in by adapting “American” ways and speaking English. He was going to build “the wall” physically dividing America and Mexico, and best of all, Mexico was going to pay for it.

It didn’t matter that much of what he said was exaggerated, distorted, or simply not true, it worked in firing up his base and exploiting the fears of the undecided. It was one of the foundation stones of his election.

There were other corner stones – the deep dislike for Clinton by many voters, the demand for change in Washington, restoring pride in America, rebellion against a liberal social agenda that many felt threatened their Christian religion and their guns rights, and a promise to return good paying middle class jobs. But his anti-immigration stance was at the core of his victory.

According to the Post-Kaiser survey:
- Trump won 74 percent of the vote among those who don’t think immigrants are doing enough to assimilate into our culture – living like us. Rural Republicans are far more likely to feel this way than Democrats.
- More than 60 percent of his backers say immigrants are a burden on the nation taking jobs from U.S. citizens.
- 42 percent of rural residents feel that immigrants are “a burden to the United States” while just 16 percent of those living in or near big cities believe this.
- 50 percent of us living in the country see immigrants as having values different from ours while that is true of only 39 percent living in the cities.
- 63 percent of rural residents believe stricter immigration laws will help bring back jobs to their communities.
- Many of Trump’s rural supporters believe that immigrants are increasing America’s debt by living off the welfare system and not paying their fair share of taxes.

But there was also some promising news in the survey. It found that when rural residents lived around more immigrants they tended to become more tolerant and accepting.

“The Post-Kaiser poll finds that in rural areas where less than 2 percent of the population are immigrants, less than 4 in 10 residents say immigrants strengthen the country. But that rises to nearly 6 in 10 in rural areas where at least 5 percent are born outside the United States,” the Post story says.

“Knowing an immigrant is actually associated with a more positive attitude about immigrants,” said Mark Hugo Lopez, director of global migration and demography for the Pew Research Center. “Not 100 percent that they’re great. But more of a connection and a feeling that immigrants are not necessarily a problem for the economy.”

Some attitudes toward immigrants, particularly those here illegally, are based more on belief than fact. One person interviewed for the story said those here “illegally do not pay their fair share of taxes.” However, the Post story points out, “Federal data shows that millions of undocumented immigrants file tax returns each year.”

Further, the story reports, “A National Academy of Sciences report released last September found that immigration overall had a positive impact on economic growth in the United States.”

We know that many immigrants are hardworking, much more so than some people who were born and raised here. We know they seek a better future for themselves and their families. We also know that they are an important part of rural America’s future.

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