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Fighting for status

Immigration draws to mind many images in American history: the British colonists of Jamestown, the Pilgrims, Irish potato farmers fleeing famine and disease, German and Russian Mennonites with hard red winter wheat seed sewn into the hems of their dresses, land-seeking Swedes, Chinese and Mexican railroad workers pushing toward the Golden Spike that united the country coast to coast.

More recently, refugees of war, political strife and domestic unrest have come to the shores of America seeking the promise offered in the legendary words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.

Key Points

• The United States was founded as a nation of immigrants.

• When certain groups became numerous, laws were tightened.

• The climate is increasingly hostile to immigrants, especially Hispanics.

In the days when those words governed American immigration policy — prior to the beginning of federal regulation of immigration in the late 1800s, America’s doors were wide open. Immigrants, most of them from Europe, brought new people, new energy and new ideas to the New World.

Things began to change when certain groups of immigrants flocked to specific areas. Chinese and Mexican immigrants came to work on the railroads or in the farm fields, especially in California.

Recent years have brought increasing American intolerance of immigrants, especially those from Mexico, and Central and South America. Immigration laws, amended numerous times and made far more stringent since the terrorist attacks of 2001, have made it harder and harder for people to legally immigrate to the United States.

In fact, legal immigration has become so difficult that the western Kansas packing plants, farms, dairies and feedlots find they can’t hire the workers they desperately need. And legal workers seeking to bring their families to America have found it virtually impossible to get legal status for their dependents.

Starting this month, Kansas Farmer will attempt to explain immigration issues and the unique role that agriculture plays.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

— from “The New Colussus,” the poem by Emma Lazarus inscribed on the Statue of Liberty


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HARD WORKERS: Hispanic immigrants, like this western Kansas dairy employee, make up a huge part of the workforce in Kansas, especially in packing plants, dairies and feedlots.

This article published in the January, 2012 edition of KANSAS FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.