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Immigrant Workers Fueling Small Town Survival

While many rural towns across the country slowly die, Dodge City, Kansas and others have become engines of growth.

During the past few decades, many of the nation's giant meat producers and processors have moved their plants from the cities to rural areas where they are closer to the massive herds of cattle that wander the US plains and to non-union laborers.

And, as the area attracts more and more poor migrant workers, Dodge City has become emblematic of another battleground - the war over immigration. The reason has been the transformation of America's meat-packing industry.

School teachers report the biggest concerns regarding the rising immigrant population. Dodge City school officials count 23 languages spoken by immigrant families, though the town is overwhelmingly Latino.

About 44% of students in Dodge City have limited English proficiency, prompting the district to establish a program for immigrant students geared heavily toward language acquisition, and includes help from Spanish-speaking assistants.

Just a decade ago, about 70% of Dodge City students were English-speaking whites. Today, that statistic has been turned on its head - about 70% of the 5,800 students who attend Dodge City school are Hispanic, with non-Hispanic whites now comprising just 25%.

Despite the challenges, town residents cannot deny the importance of the meat-packing plants as they are the main economic players in the region. According to a Kansas State University economist, "Everything around there is either working with, complementing or part of that industry."

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