Immigration is a lightning rod issue at the national and local level. Bozeman Public Library will host a panel discussion and Q&A Tuesday to explore the impact of immigration on the economy.
Across the West, Latino populations are on the rise. Bridget Kevane is a professor of Latin American and Latino Studies at Montana State University and one of Tuesday’s panelists for Economics of Immigration: Boon or Bust.
"Everywhere I go to talk about Latinos in Montana," says Kevane, "members in the audience say, ‘Yeah, we’ve seen growth, too.'"
She says growth is driven by different industries around the state.
"So for example, in Libby it’s timber. In Sidney, it was because of the Bakken. In the Flathead, it’s the cherry pickers."
About three percent of Montana’s population identifies as Latino, and most of the recent growth has been in Gallatin County. Kevane says agriculture, specifically dairies and potato farms, have played a role. But construction in Bozeman and Big Sky and the service industry in West Yellowstone are the biggest drivers. Between 1980 and 2015, the number of people who identified as Latino or Hispanic in Gallatin County grew from around 300 to 3,000.
Kevane says most of the influx is coming from other states rather than across the Mexican border and only a small percentage are undocumented. However, she adds many people in the Latino community worry about potential border closures. She says people who are in the process of getting their papers may be afraid to travel outside the US because they fear they won’t be able to return.
She says Bozeman in particular has a lot of mixed-status families.
"Which means that one of the parents has papers, maybe one doesn’t, but some of the kids do, some of the kids don’t. So family units definitely tend not to leave in case someone gets stuck on the other side," says Kevane.
She says many people in the Latino community — even if they were born here — face quite a bit of hostility. But Kevane adds a slew of organizations have also been welcoming. Several years ago, Kevane helped develop a program to train and mentor Latina women in Gallatin County to serve as health advocates for their families and community. Gallatin County Health has since adopted the program.
"I think the community will increase, and people will continue to set roots down here because they want to live here for the same reasons that you or I do," says Kevane.
In Missoula, refugee resettlement has also been a hot button issue. The International Rescue Committee and Soft Landing Missoula started relocating refugees in 2016 — an action that both garnered community support and protests.
The Economics of Immigration: Boon or Bust? SymBozium will take place Tuesday at the Emerson’s Crawford Theater at 7 pm in Bozeman. Kevane will be joined by George Borjas, a professor of economics and social policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, and Andrew Greenfield, an immigration attorney. The event is free and open to the public.