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Latino immigrants may be reviving the Plains, but some want to roll up the welcome mat

A widely read New York Times story Sunday described how the predominantly Mexican immigrants who have settled in Kansas have been reviving some of the region's dying towns, opening businesses and providing an influx of younger residents and workers to replace aging locals. But demographic change in the Great Plains "has not been uniformly welcomed," the story read.

And as if on cue, now comes news of another potential state immigration crackdown. Kansas is the home state of Kris Kobach, its Secretary of State and the attorney-activist who wrote anti-illegal immigration bills such as Arizona's SB 1070 and the even stricter state bill recently enacted Alabama, which has led to a farm labor crisis as immigrant workers leave the state. Earlier this week, the Lawrence Journal-World (and later the Huffington Post) reported on Kobach's plans to push new immigration legislation in Kansas. From the LJW piece:

There will be legislation aimed at stopping illegal immigration in Kansas during the 2012 session, Kobach said.

“I think one of the reasons is that there is just so much demand for it from constituents,” he said.

Also, he said, an E-Verify bill that has failed in the past in the Kansas Legislature is more likely to gain acceptance because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in May that upheld an Arizona law that requires employers use the E-Verify database system to check the immigration status of their workers.

These wouldn't be the first proposed illegal immigration crackdown bills in the Plains state, which last year saw not only the E-Verify bill promising to punish employers who hire illegally, but a bill seeking to repeal in-state college tuition for undocumented students. Neither made it very far, though the Supreme Court decision on the Arizona E-Verify law could give legislators pushing it more leverage, as Kobach suggests.

Meanwhile, from the NYT's weekend piece set in Ulysses, Kansas:

For generations, the story of the small rural town of the Great Plains, including the dusty tabletop landscape of western Kansas, has been one of exodus — of businesses closing, classrooms shrinking and, year after year, communities withering as fewer people arrive than leave and as fewer are born than are buried. That flight continues, but another demographic trend has breathed new life into the region.

Hispanics are arriving in numbers large enough to offset or even exceed the decline in the white population in many places. In the process, these new residents are reopening shuttered storefronts with Mexican groceries, filling the schools with children whose first language is Spanish and, for now at least, extending the lives of communities that seemed to be staggering toward the grave.

That demographic shift, seen in the findings of the 2010 census, has not been uniformly welcomed in places where steadiness and tradition are seen as central charms of rural life. Some longtime residents of Ulysses, where the population of 6,161 is now about half Hispanic, grumble over the cultural differences and say they feel like strangers in their hometown. But the alternative, community leaders warn, is unacceptable.

The story quoted one Ulysses resident, former mayor Thadd Kistler, who welcomes the new arrivals: “We’re either going to change or we’re going to die,” he said.