Don’t Blame Hispanic Workers

September 9, 2013 10:45 PM
Don’t Blame  Hispanic Workers

More cows doesn’t mean more crime

Contrary to what critics say, dairy workforces heavy with immigrants don’t serve as a catalyst for increasing crime in a community, says a University of Idaho (UI) study.

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During the project, called Community Level Impacts of Idaho’s Changing Dairy Industry, based on data from 1997 through 2008, researchers in the UI Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology looked at the impacts on Idaho communities as dairies employed more Hispanic workers.

One of the study’s major findings is that growth in the dairy industry in southern Idaho has no affect on felony rates in the region. Although felony rates are higher on average for Hispanics, those rates appear to be decreasing as their proportion of the total population grows.

If foreign-born immigrants do enter the justice system, the primary community level impact is language-based. There is an increasing need for Spanish-speaking public defenders, translators and others in the workforce.

Drugs were not noted as a particular problem or community impact relative to the growth of the Hispanic population in southern Idaho. In relation to drug-related activity and arrests, law enforcement officers cited in the report explained that although "the drugs are coming in from Mexico, the drug trafficking is not all Hispanic."

And, a police deputy in south central Idaho elaborated the complexity of the drug problem as it intersects with his community: "Because some workers in the dairy industry travel back and forth to Mexico, they have the opportunity to traffic drugs. But that is more a function of moving across the border and the need for income—it does not mean they are the root of the problem. Some of them are users, and some are just making money."

Clearly, the dairy industry has positively impacted local communities in Idaho, says Priscilla Salant, lead author of the study and director of the UI Office of Community Partnerships. "Dairy has brought jobs and people to towns that otherwise would be in decline. However, the ongoing
impact of the growing Hispanic population is a complicated story," she says.

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