The United States of America has always been a nation of immigrants, but as times change, so do the opinions of the public. In current times, the issue of immigration has been at the forefront of public discourse and within many political institutions, national to local. A perceived clash of cultures creates problems across the country from individual instances of racism to systematic issues in institutions like schools. Immigration is a hot button topic that often polarizes people, especially between political parties, but immigration itself is not inherently an issue. In fact, immigration is arguably essential the entirety of the United States, and undeniably helpful to many rural communities across the country. Marshalltown, Iowa is a prime example of this phenomenon of immigration benefiting the community.
Marshalltown, which used to be overwhelming white, cliche Iowan town, now defies assumptions and has a significant population of Latinx immigrants. The Swift Meat Packing Plant in Marshalltown, the world’s third largest pork plant, slaughtering and processing as many as 16,000 hogs in a day (or 3.6 million a year), with its large number of available jobs and the inherent danger of working in the meat packing plant, draws a large force of immigrant workers to Marshalltown, especially Latinos (Grey and Woodrick 2002). This influx of immigrants has drastically changes racial, ethnic, and language makeup of the town in the past decades, and admittedly created some tensions and issues within the community. However, work through the community, especially inclusion and bilingual schooling, has helped mitigate these overall tensions and benefits all students.
To understand the situation of schooling in Marshalltown, one must be familiar with the history of the town and how the demographics have changed. In 1990, Marshalltown total population was just .9% Latino as compared to 2000, where the percentage rose to 12.6% in just ten years (Grey and Woodrick 2002). Since then, the percentage of the population continues to rise, even though the total population has not changed significantly; as of 2017, Latinos now makeup 27.6% of the population, with 28.9% of the population speaking a language other than English at home, and over 5,000 of 27,280 residents identifying as foreign born (U.S. Census Bureau 2017). These numbers likely underrepresented the latino and migrant populations because of undocumented immigrants’ reluctance to answer census surveys. The town experienced some ill effects from this huge demographic change, but these effects were not necessarily the fault of immigrants, as the image many anti-immigrant proponents in the government paint. In fact, the town’s economy benefited greatly from this. There is a common narrative in politics that immigrants are “stealing jobs from hard working Americans”, but Marshalltown meatpacking plant clearly invalidates this argument. Jobs at the meat packing plant were not being filled quickly at first because Americans in the town, mostly white, did not want to work there. The unpleasant nature of the work combined with the stigma of working at a meat packing plant would be enough to discourage them, but even worse, meat packing plants have the highest injury rate of any US industry due to the use of knives, dangerous machines, slippery floors, and repetitive work (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2001).
Photo of Marshalltown Pork Plant.
Latino immigrants filled these jobs, helping the community right off the bat. Additionally, the value of the immigrant workers was made stark when looking at the ill effects ICE raids in the town had. Unfortunately, the presence of the meat packing plant and the significant latino population made (and makes) Marshalltown a target for ICE raids, and there have been two devastating raids in the past decades. The first was in 1996, before ICE was conceived and the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Services) was the prevailing agency for immigration responsibilities, and the second was in 2006 when six Swift plants across the country were hit on the same day, with almost 1,300 undocumented immigrants were detained nationwide (Grey and Woodrick 2002). Both of these raids were devastating emotionally and mentally for the communities, but also economically. After the 2006 raid, the Swift company lost $500,000 in production, and $50 million nationwide, in part because of the raid itself and the arrest of many of the workers as undocumented immigrants, but also because the raids scared away many other Latino immigrants who were not arrested. Unrelated individuals as well as extended families of those arrested in the raids left because they felt it “was not a welcoming community” (Vasilogambros 2016). Not only did the Swift Company itself, the biggest employer in Marshalltown, suffer, the rest of the community was affected. Patronage to local stores and restaurants in the aftermath of the raid dropped, Latino homes in the town lost a third of their value, and statewide retail sales declined 3.2% in the quarter following the raid (Vasilogambros 2016). The economic damages of losing these immigrants, documented and undocumented, can demonstrate the positives that immigrants brought to the community when they came.
The appeal of beneficial economic advancements that immigrants can bring is applicable to the general public in the United States since many individuals are driven by more selfish reasons like money, but the immigrants coming to Marshalltown also have more value for their humanity. The immigrants coming to the United States, specifically Marshalltown, often benefit from coming to the United States because they are escaping things like unemployment, underemployment, lack of educational opportunities, landlessness, and lack of political power in their hometowns or home countries and coming to a place with more jobs, higher incomes, better education, and better healthcare (Grey and Woodrick 2002). The already established members of the Marshalltown community can benefit from the presence of migrants too through further diversity and learning from those who are different than them, especially children who have not been fully socialized and exposed to the world yet. The symbiotic relationship between immigrants and Marshalltown benefits both sides.
To ensure this relationship remains more beneficial than anything else, the schools in Marshalltown, and towns like it, must work to accommodate all students. Marshalltown is a prime example of how integration, inclusion, and bilingualism in the school system can benefit all students, not just those who are being integrated. Students of workers in the meatpacking plants, just like students of immigrants across the country, can have extra challenges in the school system because of language challenges, as well as high turnover rates where schools with the most meatpacking children in Marshalltown have the highest percentage of students who are not enrolled the entire year (Grey and Woodrick 2002). To aid students who may not speak English at home or have entered the school system without sufficient language preparation, Marshalltown school district has a Dual Language Enrichment Program. On the district website, it outlines the specific schools programs and bilingual practices, emphasizing that “by the time the bilingual program students enter Marshalltown High school, students have both English and Spanish literacy skills” and are “free to pursue mastery of a third language”. Additionally, bilingual program students may earn Spanish college credits through the Marshalltown Community School. The district intends for students in the bilingual program to receive the same quality education as other students, and also equip learners to achieve grade-level academic standards, bilingualism, biliteracy, and multicultural competence.
A graph comparing graduation rates of the national average to the Marshalltown district results, looking at overall, hispanic, and white populations.
Though the district does not provide graduation statistics for those in and outside of the bilingual program, overall graduation statistics for the district score better than United States’ averages. The Marshalltown District has an overall graduation rate of 88.07%, compared to the national average of 84%. Racially, Hispanics in MArshalltown have a 84.38% graduation rate above the 79% national average, and White students in MArshalltown have a 93.28% graduation rate above the national average of 88% according the the Iowa Department of Education. With just this information, causation cannot be assumed, but, the potential correlation, combined with a number of studies that acknowledge a slew of benefits of bilingual education, suggests that inclusion and integration of students and their language needs is beneficial to all students within districts.
Schooling and social change are so closely linked, it is often indeterminable which affects the other more. Still, the value of education is undeniable, and positive actions in the education system that make education more accessible to more varieties of students should be more common place. The schooling in Marshalltown likely contributed to the mitigation of some of the tension between parents, because students were integrated and taught to value each other at a young age. Racial and ethnic tensions, especially regarding new immigration, are often unavoidable, as immigration itself is commonplace, but Marshalltown represents a model for surviving this. Though Marshalltown is not perfect, it demonstrates the positive aspects immigrants can bring to communities through economics and social avenues, and its school system serves as an illustration for how schools can become more incluse through bilingual programs.
Marshalltown is no anomaly. Towns across the United States are experiencing similar phenomena where meatpacking plants, or similar industries like poultry plants and the carpet industry, draw large groups of immigrants or refugees (Grey and Woodrick 2002). To preserve the wellbeing of all individuals as this happens across the United States, we must be aware of how our actions threaten or support the identities of others. Existing in white America is a challenge for all individuals who are not part of dominant cultures, and our actions as individuals must seek to support everyone. Improving our education system to be more inclusive is just one way to do this, but understanding the value and importance of individuals, immigrants and natives alike, is crucial.
Grey, Mark A., and Anne C. Woodrick. “Unofficial Sister Cities: Meatpacking Labor Migration Between Villachuato, Mexico, and Marshalltown, Iowa.” Human Organization, vol. 61, no. 4, 2002, pp. 364–376. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/44127576.
Inskeep, Steve. “Iowa Town Feels Effects of Immigration Raids.” NPR, NPR, 3 Dec. 2007, www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16839914.
“Iowa Public High School, Class of 2017, 4 Year Graduation Data by District and Subgroup.” National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a Part of the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 10 Apr. 2018, nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/pdf/coe_coi.pdf.
“Marshalltown Community School District.” District Mission and Vision | Marshalltown, www.marshalltown.k12.ia.us/our-district/extended-learning-program/.
Mayer, Amy. “What a Slaughterhouse Looks Like.” Iowa Public Radio, 30 June 2016, mediad.publicbroadcasting.net/p/ipr/files/styles/x_large/public/201606/062416-JBS.jpg.
“Public High School Graduation Rates.” National Center for Education Statistics, 2018, nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/pdf/coe_coi.pdf.
“U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Marshalltown City, Iowa.” Census Bureau QuickFacts, 2017, www.census.gov/quickfacts/marshalltowncityiowa.
Vasilogambros, Matt. “ICE Raids Reopen Old Wounds for Families in This Small Town.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 1 Feb. 2016, www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/01/ice-raids-reopen-old-wounds-for-families-in-this-small-town/458868/.