Reporting project shines light on immigrant workers' children | KBIA

Reporting project shines light on immigrant workers' children

Nov 6, 2013


At the primary school in rural Noel, Mo., teachers and staff function as educators and de facto social workers.
Credit Abbie Fentress Swanson / Harvest Public Media

While doing research for the Harvest Public Media series “In the Shadows of the Slaughterhouse,” reporters Abbie Fentress Swanson and Peggy Lowe called roughly two dozen institutions to get statistics about the children of immigrant and refugee workers at American meatpacking plants. Swanson said she called federal agencies, researchers, unions, and immigration advocacy groups. But she couldn't find anyone who kept data on how many of these children live in the U.S., not to mention their health, education or economic status.

“They’re not on anyone’s radar,” Swanson said. “They’re not being tracked or followed, they’re kind of an invisible population in this country.”

So when Swanson went down to Noel, a town in southwestern Missouri home to 1,832 people and a huge Tyson Foods poultry plant, one of her goals was to shine some light into the lives of the children of the plant’s workers. Immigrants and refugees make up the majority of workers at Tyson’s Noel complex, which employs about 1,600 people. 

In Noel, Swanson learned that many of the workers' children live in poverty.

"At Noel Primary, over 90 percent of the children get free and reduced meals," Swanson said. "The number of homeless children there had doubled in the past five years." 

Noel doesn't have a food bank or free clinic in town. So the town's schools have formed a safety net for the workers' children. They offer such health services as immunizations and dental cleanings. Some teachers also field questions from children and families about legal status. 

“Anything you can think of that a clinic or a community center might be doing in a bigger city, these schools seem to be doing in Noel," Swanson said. 

To listen to Swanson's feature story, "Schools build safety net for immigrant children," click here

To check out the rest of the "In the Shadows of the Slaughterhouse" series, click here.

To listen to immigrant and refugee children tell of their dreams for the future, click here