Immigration is such an enormous issue in America today that it can be easy to lose track of the effect that the nation’s patchwork of laws have on small communities. From coast to coast, smaller cities and towns are dealing with an influx of undocumented immigrants, and because the rules can be so varied from state to state and even city to city, many places are simply unable to come up with a coherent strategy to work with these new, growing populations.
Small towns with large immigrant populations
In places like Mattawa, Wash., Mendota, Calif., and Sweetwater, Fla., undocumented immigrants now make up the majority of the population, or close to it, according to the Boston Globe. And that’s a trend that can be seen throughout the country, where the U.S. census shows that immigrants without citizenship make up 20 percent or more of the population in more than 100 cities and towns, including New York City and Los Angeles.
The consequences of those shifting population numbers have had wide-ranging effects, both good and bad. Many immigrants have moved into communities that were suffering from dwindling numbers of residents and closed businesses. They have helped to reverse those trends, revitalizing many of the places to which they have moved.
On the other hand, the legal gray area these immigrants find themselves in inhibits them from being full members of their communities. Many of them are afraid to report crimes or take part in civic groups because they might be outed and brought to the attention of immigration authorities.
Other cities, like El Paso, Texas, find themselves inundated by immigration cases, which divert much needed city funds and cause a bureaucratic backlog. Congressional inaction on immigration reform has left many of these cities unable to come up with a viable strategy for handling their undocumented immigrant populations.