Kansas Cattle Town Dodge City Bucks A Rural Trend With Growth Driven By Immigrants


By Jim McLean, KMUW Wichita NPR

Nov 24, 2019


.DODGE CITY, Kansas — The history of this small city built on the cattle trade sets it apart from most towns in rural Kansas. The mere name of the place evokes recollections of the Wild West and the subsequent romancing of that age.


Yet Dodge City also stands apart from the region that surrounds it. This place is growing.


So how does Dodge City buck a trend that’s hollowed out great swaths of rural Kansas and Great Plains for generations?


In a word: immigration. The place is filling up with people willing to take on the bloody, grueling and sometimes dangerous jobs of cutting up cows into steaks and hamburger.


“The cattle industry in southwest Kansas,” said Matt Sanderson, a rural sociologist at Kansas State University, is “where we see growth.”


Large areas of rural Kansas have emptied out so much that demographers consider them frontiers, “wilderness on the edge of a settled area.”


The loss of younger people, in particular, Sanderson said, constitutes a crisis in the making. Between 2010 and 2017, he said, rural areas lost 5% of their working-age population.


“It’s a very large number,” Sanderson said. So large, he didn’t believe it until he checked his math.


He said immigrants change the dynamic “because they come in their prime working ages” and help widen the population base.


The meatpacking jobs that attract immigrants to Dodge, Garden City and Liberal, demand hard work amid the stench of cattle and raw meat. They also offer a path to a middle-class life in America.


Ernestor De La Rosa immigrated to Dodge City with his parents when he was 13. He watched as workers streamed in from Mexico, Central America, Asia and Africa and transformed the town’s economy and culture.


“It came little by little,” De La Rosa said. “For the most part, people embraced it.”


Today, Latinos account for about two-thirds of Dodge’s population.


De La Rosa left Dodge for college, returned and is now the assistant city manager. That job places him as a liaison to the immigrant community.


“They trust me,” he said. “They know I can do things to help.”


Still, problems persist that he can’t solve.


Like many undocumented immigrants in Dodge, De La Rosa remains in the United States under an executive order issued in 2012 by President Obama that established the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program, better known as DACA. It gives temporary protection to migrants who immigrated illegally before their 16th birthday.


The Trump administration ended the program, but the order remains in force pending the outcome of a court challenge. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide the case next year...


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