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Throughout our nation's history, immigrants have tended towards larger cities so that they would have more opportunities to find work and housing. Recently, however, small towns such as Noel, Missouri, are receiving a large influx of immigrants who come to work in plants. Unfortunately, because these towns are so small, they are not always able to provide social services to a diverse population of immigrants.
Noel, Missouri has been receiving much publicity recently after the town became a booming immigrant town in about 20 years. Because of the Tyson meatpacking plant located in town, immigrants are drawn to the area for a steady job and better conditions than in cities. The town has fewer than 2,000 residents but the plant alone employs 1,600 people.
Back in the 1990s when immigrants first discovered jobs at the town, the demographic was predominantly Hispanic. Now, Pacific Islanders and refugees from Myanmar and Africa are migrating. “We do have small towns that have had 100 to 200 percent growth that have really changed overnight over the past 20 years and have a much larger immigrant population than they used to,” says Lisa Dorner, a University of Missouri education professor.
But just because an area may have jobs for immigrants does not mean that the situation presents no challenges. In fact, Somali newcomers have had a particularly difficult time adjusting to their new living arrangements. A recent incident that occurred left over a dozen car tires slashed. Somalis also feel unwelcome at certain establishments in the town.
“Overall, this community, they are not welcoming to people [who] look different or [who are of] different religions. It’s like they are still in the 1980s …” says Farah Burale, a Somali-English translator at the Tyson plant. Many of the immigrants feel isolated from other residents of Noel making it difficult for them to assimilate into society. Another problem is finding housing because of the long waiting list for local housing. “You cannot rent a house right now. If you look, try to find a house, you can’t,” says Faisal Ali Ahmed, a Somali refugee who works the night shift at the Tyson plant as a forklift driver.
The mayor of Noel also sees the problems that come along with different immigrants all looking for work who do not know the language and do not have resources to help them. Tyson is pushing the town to build more housing, but there is no money in the budget for this to happen. There are several challenges that small towns comprised of immigrants possess, but by making immigrant advocates aware of these hidden towns can bring more help to the areas.
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