IMMIGRATION TREND: Ottumwa Leads Nation

As a bipartisan group of senators is expected to unveil immigration-reform legislation in the next few days, on Friday, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that a strong majority of the U.S. population backs citizenship for undocumented immigrants

The poll shows nearly two-thirds of Americans – including eight in 10 Latinos – support giving undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship.

A town in Iowa knows better than most the impacts of immigration. Ottumwa’s immigrant population rose from 1% in 2000 to 11.3% according to the 2010 census. Wapello County had the biggest percentage rise nationwide.

That rise has put it in the national spotlight, first back in November in a Wall Street Journal article and again Friday on a Today Show special report presented by Natalie Morales. Both stories have looked at how the community has dealt with the changing demographic.

“What’s happening in Ottumwa is really a perfect example of the explosion of the Latino population… of what’s happening all across America,” Morales told Channel 13.

Starting in the 1990’s, Ottumwa saw an influx of immigrants coming to town. The town has become a draw due to jobs at the Cargill meat packing plant.

Some also came to earn a living as entrepreneurs. Ramon Lopez opened his grocery store and cafe in downtown Ottumwa.

The impact is community wide. Immigrants now make up 25-percent of the students in the school system there.

As the new residents began arriving, workers with Iowa State University Extension of Wapello County took steps to help make them feel welcome, “Not only diversity training and diversity conferences and diversity task force, but we also did a lot with the newcomers,” said Himar Hernandez. “We did citizenship classes, we did a lot of training with them in how to get involved in the community.”

Iowa State University Extension also has offices in Marshalltown and Perry as well to help new residents and longtime Iowans adjust to the changing population.

Morales’ report was shown on the Today Show at 8 a.m. Friday.

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