Mexican immigrants have saved small town economies across America, but anti-immigrant, racist rhetoric and policies from the Trump administration threaten the progress they've helped make.
Trump’s over-the-top racist rhetoric about immigrants regularly ignores the ways immigrants are an integral part of all communities, from large and diverse cities, to small towns like Pennsylvania’s Kennett Square.
“Overall, immigrants have helped both wealthy and poorer rural towns cope with an aging, declining population,” writes Alfredo Corchado in the New York Times. “They’ve rescued abandoned communities, some that had been losing population since the 1920s.”
Kennett Square, for example, is a town of 6,000. Half of the population are immigrants, mainly from Mexico. For decades, immigrants slowly went from outsiders to fully integrated members of the community.
For more than three generations, the newcomers have contributed to the renewal of Kennett Square. Some Mexican immigrants have started their own mushroom farms. Some own hair salons. Others own Mexican grocery stores. There’s even a taco war, as locals debate who makes the best tacos: Are they downtown or in nearby Avondale?
In Pennsylvania, immigrants are not only part of communities, but integral to the economy. Immigrant-owned businesses generated $1.2 billion in business income in 2014, according to a recent report. More than 140,000 Pennsylvanians work at immigrant-owned businesses, and immigrants contribute 7 percent of state and local taxes.
But while towns like Kennett Square are welcoming, the bigoted rhetoric from the White House still hovers, with potentially disastrous consequences.
“Mexicans are leaving, and that’s bad news for everyone,” said Chris Alonzo, mushroom farmer and president of one of the biggest mushroom companies in Kennett Square. “All the negativity, the fearmongering, the anti-immigrant feeling is hurting our small town. We’re seeing labor shortages, and that threatens the vibrancy of our community.”
The Trump administration has made headlines since day one for its anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. One of Trump’s first official acts was to attempt a Muslim Ban, which was repeatedly struck down by the courts.
The situation is so dire the United Nations rebuked the Trump administration’s policy as “counter to human rights standards and principles.”
The Kennett Square Council is doing what they can to stand up for all residents in the town. In March 2017 the council passed an anti-discrimination ordinance.
Residents spoke passionately about the need for the community to show support.
“There is fear in the Hispanic community,” said Carolos Navaro, a borough resident who was born in Mexico. He continued:
The Mexican population has worked hard for many, many years, but we are being accused of bringing in drugs, killing people or being racists. We are not that kind of people. You can check the records. We want to live in a diverse community with no walls, and to live in peace and harmony.
“The inflammatory and often disgraceful rhetoric of President Trump has created a climate of suspicion and fear, especially among minorities and immigrants,” wrote resident Gail Bowden.
“This ordinance makes it clear that Kennett Square officials resist a return to darker times when America was less great because it discriminated against people openly and in many cases legally often because of their race, ethnicity, sexual preference or gender identification, ” Bowden said.
Kennett Square is not the only small town made stronger by immigrants, and now facing uncertain consequences.
“From the meatpacking plants of Lincoln, Neb., to the service industry in Lake Geneva, Wis., immigrants and their employers are increasingly nervous,” writes Corchado. “It may get worse if the trend continues.”
“The Mexicans changed the community for the better,” Loretta Perna, a program coordinator at Kennett High School, told the New York Times. “They became part of not just the mushroom community but part of the overall community, bringing color, richness to an otherwise bland life.”
Trump’s policies and rhetoric aren’t just destroying the lives of immigrants, they’re ripping apart the fabric that holds the small towns of the U.S. together.