West Liberty, IA: A Worst-Case Scenario for Alabama?

Last week was filled with news and debate (NYT) around Alabama’s new immigration law requiring schools to check the immigration status of students. The result of getting at the parents through their children: unauthorized-immigrant parents keeping children home and asking friends to care for their children (AP) in the event of deportation.

What’s the worst-case scenario behind Alabama’s strict immigration law? A Hispanic population majority? What happens to a small American town when Latinos become the majority and own half of the town’s businesses?

West Liberty, is now a mostly Hispanic town in the overwhelmingly white state of Iowa (NPR). What does West Liberty’s Mayor Chad Thomas have to say about that?

“[…] unlike a lot of other small Midwestern towns that are dying, West Liberty is alive […] growing and thriving […] If you didn’t have the Hispanic population here in town, yeah, we would be much more like a lot of smaller towns, and there would be a lot more storefronts that are empty,” Thomas said to NPR.

What happens when schools offer a voluntary dual-language program?

“[…] in the end, all the students then become bilingual, biliterate and bicultural,” West Liberty Elementary School principal Nancy Gardner said to NPR.

How do people feel about that?

  • Anglo families have moved to West Liberty from nearby towns;
  • The program has a waiting list;
  • Other Iowa school districts with growing Hispanic populations are duplicating the program.

Bicultural utopia? Not yet. According to Mexican-born Jose Zacarias–a resident since 1984 recently sworn US Citizen–business and school integration is yet to produce community integration. But Zacarias has a plan. The only Hispanic present at a recent school board meeting, he is considering running for a seat in West Liberty’s City Council.

“We need to get together with the Hispanics and say, we are no longer a minority, we have some responsibilities, and we need to get organized,” he says. “We’ve run out of excuses. It’s time to do some work,” Zacarias said to NPR.


For more on the Latino experience in the US, check out the NPR series
Two Languages, Many Voices: Latinos in the US
Play with the interactive map: A Decade of Hispanic Population Growth

And consider a less-known aspect of Alabama’s immigration law, as depicted in this photo published in The Guardian:



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