Updated: July 21, 2021 11:22 PM
Created: July 21, 2021 11:11 PM
(ABC 6 News) - More immigrants and refugees are calling Minnesota home, especially Greater Minnesota, in the last twenty years.
That includes Austin City Councilman Oballa Oballa.
"The biggest thing that really made me stick here was the people," Oballa said.
From the meatpacking plants to the restaurants and businesses, immigrant and refugee communities are contributing to the economy, sustaining the population, and adding cultural vibrancy.
But what are local governments and leaders doing to help meet their needs?
That's the heart of an ongoing report by the Center for Rural Policy & Development, a nonpartisan group, and the Hubert H. Humphrey School for Public Affairs. Researchers looked at four cities in Greater Minnesota, including Austin, which have seen growth in immigrants and refugees living there and working in meatpacking industries.
Researchers and panelists held a webinar Wednesday to discuss the findings, including Councilman Oballa.
The report is finding several needs, especially the rural housing deficit. Factors like cost, lower land values with high cost of materials, smaller developments, and insufficient subsidized housing opportunities contribute to the issue, the report finds. Other barriers include language and government outreach.
Panelists also discussed struggles in communities that refuse to see change or struggles to find solutions to support immigrant and refugee populations.
"Not every community sees the importance of being welcoming but sooner or later, they're gonna realize it's the immigrant communities that are helping their communities thrive and become larger," Martha Castanon with Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, said. "It may take some time but they'll get there eventually."
Finding solutions to meet those needs aren't simple but panelists said factors like local representation, language access, and partnerships are a start.
"If we want to build a stronger community, every voice needs to be present on the table," Oballa said.
Panelists did note young people are helping spark change, whether it's simply neighbors playing with neighbors.
While the report is finding attitudes toward immigrant and refugee communities are improving, a lot more can and should be done across rural Minnesota.
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