What Do People Know?
by Zach Hacker
ORANGE CITY – Nine people from the social work department at Northwestern College in Orange City want people to know more about immigration in their community.
Social work processor Valerie Stokes’ community development/needs assessment class has been working to find out what people in Sioux County know about immigration issues in their community. They presented the results of their work Thursday to about 40 people at a community forum at the Orange City Town Hall.
To gather their research, the nine seniors called every 10th phone book listing from Orange City, Alton and Maurice. Of the 411 people they contacted, 199 responded (48.4 percent) to their questions about perceptions and knowledge on Hispanic immigrants in Sioux County. Of those that responded, 122 were females and 79 were males, 96 percent were Caucasian, and they were between the ages of 18 and 96.
“In a matter of 17 weeks, they’ve accomplished a great deal by really assessing the community, by interviewing stakeholders and meeting directly with Hispanic women in the community, and then walking through this whole process of developing the survey, adopting it, implementing it and then analyzing the results,” Stokes said. “That’s a lot to do for students in a small amount of time. I am more than pleased.”
In their research, the students found what they felt were discrepancies in how people responded. Fifty-two percent of those surveyed said they thought there was “about the right amount” of immigrants in the community, while 64.4 percent were concerned there are too many illegal immigrants coming to the area.
Nearly 99 percent of those surveyed considered themselves to be a Christian. Of those, only 11.8 percent said the community “always” models the biblical passage “love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Nearly 45 percent of respondents said Sioux County is “occasionally” a welcoming place while another 30.9 percent said it is “frequently” a welcoming place. But 87.8 percent said they have no Hispanic friends outside of the workplace.
Finally, 70.3 percent of those who responded said they thought immigrants strengthen the community, yet 45.6 percent said those immigrants do not pay their fair share of taxes.
Julia Rathbun, one of the researchers, attended a focus group for Hispanic people in the community for more research. Although shed said not every member of the group thought they had been discriminated against, they did think the community as a whole had much to learn about them and why they are immigrating.
“One thing that we really learned was that Hispanic people want the non-Hispanic community to know that they’re not bad,” Rathbun said, “They’re here, basically, on the means of survival and to support their families.”
That general lack of understanding shown in the “knowledge” questions on the survey was surprising to the researchers and a problem they think needs to be addressed.
“I think people have a good basis of understanding,” said group member Rebekah Wilson. “We need to kind of take that to the next level. If we’re really as concerned as we say we are, we really need to know things. How many unskilled workers does this county need? How many years does it take to get a visa? What are people withstanding when they enter this country? Issues like that.”
The group suggested there should be three intervention stages in Sioux County to help Hispanic neighbors integrate into the community. With religion having such a major impact on the community, the class things each church should hold Sunday School lessons revolving around the topic of immigration. Secondly, it thinks the community should hold outdoor events during the summer to encourage community and relationship building, and third, it thinks local newspapers should publish a series of articles pertaining to issues about immigration in Sioux County.
The Rev. John Nelson of Trinity Reformed Church in Orange City worked with the students in laying the groundwork for their studies. He said his church already is trying to reach out to the Hispanic community through real-time translation of sermons and English as a second language classes among other activities.
“We’re trying to break the barriers down, but we still need to work at it,” Nelson said.
The students and their professors think Sioux County could be a better place with the help of the three proposed interventions and community knowledge.
“The course is ending, and now the community has an opportunity to take hold of this information and run with it and develop a plan of action that will allow us to be who we say we are and who we want to be,” Stokes said. “We want to be a welcoming community. We want our Christian faith to show in our actions. We are a community of immigrants. We must figure out how to use that as an asset, to view that as a strength in our area.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Here are some of the most telling statistics in a recent survey of 199 Sioux County residents conducted by a social work class from Northwestern College in Orange City.
Q: Do you have a close friend or colleague with whom you socialize outside of work who is a recent Hispanic immigrant?
87.8% – No, I do not have a close friend/colleague
10.2% – Yes, I have a close firend/colleague
Q: Do you think there are too many, too few, or about the right number of Hispanic immigrants in Sioux County today?
52.3% – About the right number
28.0% – Too many, 12.4% – Don’t know
7.3% – Too few
Q: How concerned are you about illegal immigrants?
47.0% – Somewhat concerned
45.5% – Very concerned
6.1% – Not too concerned
1.5% – Not at all concerned
Q: Do you believe most recent Hispanic immigrants to Sioux County are here legally or not legally?
42.6% – Legally
42.6% – Not legally
21.2% – Don’t know
Q: Do you think Hispanic immigrants are unfairly discriminated against?
52.0% – Yes, discriminated against
40.3 – No, not discriminated against
7.7% – Don’t know
Q: Do you think Hispanic immigrants pay their fair share of taxes?
45.6% – No, they don’t pay their fair share of taxes
29.0% – Yes, they pay their fair share of taxes
24.9% – Don’t know
Q: What’s closer to your views?
69.1% – Immigrants today strengthen Sioux County because of their hard work and talents
29.1% – Immigrants today are a burden on Sioux County because they take jobs, housing and health care
Click here for a link to Northwestern College’s page about the study.
Click here for another newspaper article on the same study.
Click here for one more newspaper article on the study.