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Brian Depew: Immigration reality in rural America

By BRIAN DEPEW
Of the Center for Rural Affairs

A recent raid in north central Nebraska put a spotlight on immigration in rural America.

It targeted alleged labor exploitation by a local employment agency. It swept up more than 100 community members and employees of local businesses.
The raid highlighted how deeply immigration is reshaping rural America.

When we consider immigration, we often think of mid-size communities with large meatpacking plants. Few of us think of communities with 100 residents in a county of 800 residents, but that is increasingly the reality.

In conversations with rural people, I often hear a refrain about immigration. I would summarize it this way: “I don’t mind new immigrants moving here; I just wish they would do it legally.”

Unfortunately, there is no legal pathway for the vast majority of immigrants.

There are three primary ways to immigrate legally to the U.S. — employer-based immigration, family reunification and humanitarian protection.
Employer-based immigration is very limited. It is unavailable for most immigrants.

For individuals who have another legal pathway, the wait time can stretch to 20 years. Clearly, that is untenable.

For this reason, the Center for Rural Affairs has been asking Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform since 2013. We have called for creating an opportunity for undocumented immigrants to fulfill the requirements for full citizenship, a more robust process for legal immigration, a new commission to determine a practical number of workers allowed to immigrate annually, and enforcement of wage and labor laws to prevent employers from misclassifying workers.
The reality is that new immigrants have become an important part of our communities. They have become homeowners, entrepreneurs, leaders, parents and employees.

It is not our new neighbors who have failed to keep up. It is our own immigration law. It has failed to keep up with our communities and the people who live there — new immigrants and longtime residents alike.

The need to enact immigration reform change is as critical and urgent today as it was in 2013.

Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a non-profit working to supporting small businesses, rural communities and family farms and ranches.

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