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McNair Scholars Program

Zaira Ruiz, M.A.

She/her

Education: Bachelor of Arts in humanities (August 2017)

Master of Arts in sociology from Kansas State University

McNair Project: Dairy Farming, Immigration, and Incorporation in Rural America (2017)

Mentor: Alisa Garni, Ph.D.

U.S. dairy farmers have recently begun hiring immigrant employees. Their increasing dependence on immigrant workers with limited legal rights means that dairy owners must help immigrant employees to settle in remote rural communities with few services or institutions to assist new comers, especially those from abroad and who lack many essential legal rights in the United States. How do dairy farmers’ efforts to assist immigrant employees in remote rural communities affect immigrant integration? In this study I build on previous research to to learn how dairy farmers’ efforts to recruit immigrant workers and help them settle affects their incorporation into the off-farm community.  I conducted in-depth interviews with 11 immigrant employees in “Dairy City,” a rural American dairy town. I also spent time with immigrants to observe their local interactions and relationships with other community members. The data I gathered suggest that permanent employment in the dairies does promote immigrant incorporation by giving immigrants time to develop relationships with local residents, but that lingering language barriers inhibit fuller participation. In remote rural areas, language barriers are more significant than in urban areas where language programs and other institutions are available to assist residents. While immigrant incorporation is likely enhanced by permanent employment in dairies, unexploited opportunities to promote fuller integration remain.