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Thursday, June 08, 2006

Mr. Bush, Look North

Mr Bush, Look North

South Sioux City illustrates what to do in absorbing immigrant populations

Omaha World Herald Editorial - June 7, 2006

President Bush is in Omaha today, touring and talking, trying to bridge the gap between Americans in their intense dispute over illegal immigration.

Meanwhile, communities are crafting their own answers. One successful model of a community working well with its Latino immigrant population can be seen in South Sioux City, Neb. It's a model that other cities and national leaders would do well to copy.

The city, Chamber of Commerce, school system and business community are working cooperatively to help immigrants make the best of their opportunity in a new land.
City Administrator Lance Hedquist says about one-fourth of South Sioux City's population consists of minorities, most of whom are Latino. The school system is 48 percent Latino, 43 percent white and 9 percent non-Hispanic minorities.

The commendable steps South Sioux City has taken toward helping Latino immigrants assimilate into American society include:

• Leadership training. Siouxland Unidad Latina has offered the Siouxland Immigrant Leadership Training program since 2001 to new immigrants. The seven- to eight-week session provides resources and information about the community, said board member Norma De La O.

The weekly sessions, she said, deal with issues such as law enforcement, city government and education. Officials in those fields attend so immigrants can ask them questions, De La O said. About 115 people have completed the program, which ends with a graduation ceremony.

• Business development. The Hispanic Roundtable Group, a part of the Rural Enterprise Assistance Project run by the Center for Rural Affairs, has provided networking opportunities for Hispanic business owners for three years.

Adriana Dungan, REAP business specialist for northeast Nebraska, said the group offers training in customer service, financial statements, sales taxes and marketing, among other subjects. Although the roundtable is aimed at Hispanic business owners, non-Hispanics and anyone thinking of owning a business can attend. City officials have been very helpful in addressing the group's needs, Dungan said.

• School-based programs. South Sioux City Community Schools offers two exemplary programs: its Cardinal Student Support Center and its Newcomers Center. Bilingual staff members at the Cardinal center assist families that are new to the area and need help with English skills, said Superintendent Steve Rector.

The center also helps parents register their students for school and assists with financial and housing needs. Students with limited English skills, Rector said, attend their neighborhood school for half a day and then go to the Newcomers Center for half a day for intensive language instruction.

The idea, he said, is to help families become stable and put down roots in the school system and community. The program, which local businesses support, has boosted academic achievement and cut down on employee turnover for local employers.

South Sioux City also has offered an annual health fair aimed at immigrants, worked with Latinos to stage a Cinco de Mayo celebration and helped them sign up for the new Medicare prescription-drug benefit.

Yet South Sioux Citians also strongly desire a resolution to some immigrants' legal status. Although they value immigrants, "the community as a whole clearly wants people to be legal," said Hedquist, the city administrator.

As the immigration debate rages on, South Sioux City is a strong example of sound vision where Latino immigrant relations are concerned. Its leaders are worth emulating as Bush and Congress keep seeking a rational middle ground on which all Americans can agree.

Omaha World Herald, June 7, 2006

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Center for Rural Affairs
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