Meredith Glenn Cabell, Center for Iberian and Latin American Studies and Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, University of California – San Diego
Introduction: Owensboro, Kentucky is at a crossroads. With the arrival of Mexican immigrants in the town, the city of 54,000 is one of many new immigrant receiving communities in the Southeast1 that is experiencing immigration for the first time in over 100 years. In a place defined largely by its Anglo population, the arrival of a small, but permanent and growing population of Mexican immigrants over the last ten years has made the national immigration debate relevant beyond the traditional gateways. The most pressing issues include immigrant access to healthcare, bilingual education, housing, English-language acquisition and drivers’ licenses for immigrants. The undocumented2 status of many immigrants adds complexity to these issues, even as many in the community recognize that immigrants are a vital part of the workforce and community. Consequently, their arrival has also sparked conversations common to immigrant-receiving communities regarding immigrant incorporation into the existing social, economic, political and cultural structure. The successful integration of this immigrant population is something that could potentially benefit many actors. It could enrich the community both socially and economically, while also adding diversity to a largely homogeneous population. On the other hand, the failure to successfully integrate the growing Mexican immigrant population could lead to tension and divisiveness between old and new community members that would benefit no one.