Much of the growth in Bozeman is due to the influx of illegal migrants, which makes it impossible to get an accurate account for the growth of the Spanish-speaking community in Bozeman because the majority of people are undocumented, reports a Spanish –written report in the High Country News.

The report was produced in collaboration with The Nation – a “Principled. Progressive. The Nation speaks truth to power to build a more just society.”

From the US Census data,  a report states that in Gallatin County, the percentage of Latinos increased from 2.8% to 5% between 2010 and 2020 (about 140%). The number is likely higher, since it does not include the period after 2021.

“The change is visible everywhere,” reports High Country News —  with the Mexican retail stores that opened in 2018, in the mobile taco restaurants along 7th Street, or in the youth soccer team “that waived registration fees for immigrant children.”

The public schools support the arrival of minors who speak several languages. The number of students needing help learning English in Bozeman public schools has doubled to 350. And, the schools do not have an adequate number of Spanish speaking students.

The High Country News article declared that the trend is a positive one for Bozeman. South North Nexus, a nonprofit that provides legal assistance to immigrants, estimates that Hispanic immigrants contributed more than $300 million to Bozeman’s economy in 2022.

The illegal immigrants come from countries such as Guatemala, Peru, Venezuela, and Honduras.

Immigrants seeking asylum, including many Hondurans, can’t apply for a work permit until the asylum request goes 150 days unresolved. It is estimated that by September 2024 there will be a record 8 million unresolved cases in U.S. immigration courts, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

That means that many of those who recently arrived in Bozeman can expect to wait more than a year before they are legally authorized to work. The article says that it is therefore “not surprising that many immigrants break the laws, taking jobs that pay in cash and living in fear of encountering law enforcement officers.” The article compares that as “the flip side” of one of the “most prominent and expensive real estate markets in the country.”

It is the Bozeman real estate markets and the rampant construction with its “insatiable” demand for workers that is drawing the immigrants.

The article makes the point that Montana is a state that has been built largely upon the contributions of immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Eastern Europe and China. While claiming that “this is no different”, the article fails to underscore that those of yesteryear were legal immigrants.

A Bozeman attorney is quoted saying, ““What we’re experiencing with a construction boom in southwestern Montana is no different than the Butte mines. Hopefully, the working conditions are a little better, but it’s hard. The weather’s nasty. And there’s a language barrier.” 

The fact that illegal immigrants cannot work legally is described — “For Spanish-speaking immigrants, these daily difficulties, whether at work or in the form of a menacing legal system, are ever-present.”

Attempts at enforcing local laws is chalked up to “racial profiling,” which leaves illegal immigrants fearful.

The article makes the point, “But the robust housing market that draws these immigrants to Bozeman cannot provide them with reliable shelter, especially if they lack government-issued IDs, a credit history or a Social Security number. In any case, it is an extremely tight rental market.”

“Immigrants are forced to accept run-down, overcrowded housing: trailer parks, highway motels, rentals owned by their bosses. Either that, or they join the thousands of people who already sleep on the streets every night.”

The immigrants say that it is hard to make friends. They also complain that they are required to have hard-to-get IDs for many things, such as social security cards. Fake social security numbers cost $150 each.

Their illegal status also leaves them highly vulnerable as victims ofs crime – especially wage theft. Employers often don’t pay them, and the illegal immigrants have little recourse. Most of them, too, must worry about the trafficking of illegal drugs, as well as the traumatization that the change in cultures has imposed on their children – children who have sometimes experienced having been kidnapped.

The article places the blame for much of the illegal immigrants problems on Republicans who have resisted passing laws that would give immigrants “driving privilege cards,” and who the article says often demonize them.

At the same time there are many people in Bozeman who have reached out to the transplanted families, through organizations that are dedicated to providing them with assistance, as well as individual acts of kindness and contributions from food to medicine, including the payment of doctor bills.


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