Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Not just marching in big cities: Thousands of immigrants rally in Kansas

I have to admit that I have not been paying much attention to the Congressional debate over dueling proposals that would either help or slam illegal immigrants. One approach appears aimed at providing them with a path into citizenship, while the other wants to declare them and anyone who helps them to be felons.

I must say, though, the increasingly large demonstrations have finally caught my eye. What really grabbed my attention this morning was a front page story in my local newspaper, noting that there was a march in Lawrence, Kansas.

I hadn’t expected that, so I wondered what had happened in the rest of Kansas, and surprise! Immigration isn’t just a big-city issue.

The Wichita Eagle reported:

Thousands of marchers also took to the streets in Liberal, Garden City, Dodge City, Emporia and Topeka.

Across the state, Hispanic businesses closed, students skipped classes and workers walked away from jobs to join the rallies.

In Emporia, 1,500 people marched through the streets and past Tyson Meats, where many are employed, heckling some workers who declined to join the protest.

The Emporia school district reported a 23 percent absentee rate for the day, contrasting with 5 percent on an average day.

More than 3,000 people turned out in Garden City for a rally sponsored jointly by Hispanic unity organizations, religious leaders and the Tyson Workers' Council, supporters of a union organization effort at the company's beef-packing plant at Holcomb.

In Arkansas City, Creekstone Farms, a meatpacking plant, gave workers the day off to join rallies of their choice. Hispanics and their supporters gathered at Wilson Park on Monday afternoon for a march to City Hall.

Rusty Wright, human resources director for Creekstone, said about 75 percent of Creekstone's 750 workers are Hispanic.

Wichita-based Cargill Meat Solutions, which employs about 14,700 workers in five states, said there was a noticeable slowdown in production at its largest plant, in Dodge City.

See other reports on Garden City, Salina and Topeka. While none of those places qualifies as a small town by Kansas standards (think 50 up to 1,000), none of them is a metropolis. Arkansas City (mentioned in the Eagle report above) is the smallest at around 11,700 people. Garden City and Salina both have around 25,000 people. Topeka has about 122,000. Wichita is the largest city in the state with about 345,000 people.

Meanwhile, The Eagle and Wichita TV station, KWCH, sponsored a four-question SurveyUSA poll, that found only 31 percent of Kansans support a guest worker program. Those surveyed were almost evenly split on whether immigrants take jobs away from Americans or do jobs we won’t do. Overwhelming majorities said the U.S. should increase border security to keep illegal immigrants out and should deport those already here.

The Eagle has a special section on the issue with both Kansas and national perspective here.

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