Starting in my home state of Minnesota.....
Nobles County (Worthington) 17.3% non-white as of 2000
1988 Dukakis--4953 (53%), Bush--4348 (9301 voters)
2004 Bush--5159 (56%), Kerry--3898 (9057 voters)
Kandiyohi County (Willmar) 9.7% non-white
1988 Dukakis--8962 (51%), Bush--8634 (17,596 voters)
2004 Bush--11,704 (55%), Kerry--9337 (21,041 voters)
Now to Iowa, where the contrasts are often even bigger....
Buena Vista County (Storm Lake) 17.9% non-white
1988 Dukakis--4580 (52%), Bush--4170 (8750 voters)
2004 Bush--4887 (58%), Kerry--3520 (8407 voters)
Crawford County (Denison) 10.6% non-white
1988 Dukakis--3868 (53%), Bush--3375 (7243 voters)
2004 Bush--3955 (55%), Kerry--3220 (7175 voters)
Louisa County (Columbus Junction) 13.6% non-white
1988 Dukakis--2268 (52%), Bush--2060 (4328 voters)
2004 Bush--2572 (52%), Kerry--2297 (4869 voters)
Marshall County (Marshalltown) 11.9% non-white
1988 Dukakis--9760 (55%), Bush--7657 (17,417 voters)
2004 Bush--9557 (50+%), Kerry--9443 (19,000 voters)
Keep in mind that the "non-white" population numbers are assuredly lowballed as the census figures notoriously undercount minorities, particularly illegal immigrants of which there are certain to be some. All six of these counties went from blue to red even as the non-white population (at least 80% Hispanic immigrants in all of these counties) went from near zero to double digits percentage-wise. Also notice that in half of these six counties, the overall number of voters went DOWN between 1988 and 2004, even though national voter turnout for the '88 election was only 51% compared to 61% for '04.
Now let's move to the beefpacking communities west of the Missouri River in Nebraska and Kansas. These counties are different from the Minnesota and Iowa counties in that the Hispanic migration began much sooner. These counties had very significant Hispanic populations by the mid-1980s, but they've only grown since then. One would think that after 30 years of Hispanic settlement, these places would be starting to trend at least a little towards the Democrats, right? Well, let's see, starting with Nebraska....
Madison County (Norfolk) 11.7% non-white
1988 Bush--9135 (76%), Dukakis--2779 (11,914 voters)
2004 Bush--10,981 (78%), Kerry--2934 (13,915 voters)
Hall County (Grand Island) 16.3% non-white
1988 Bush--12,020 (63%), Dukakis--6822 (18,842 voters)
2004 Bush--14,592 (69%), Kerry--6228 (20,820 voters)
Dawson County (Lexington) 27.2% non-white
1988 Bush--5529 (71%), Dukakis--2184 (7713 voters)
2004 Bush--6149 (77%), Kerry--1728 (7877 voters)
Dakota County (Dakota City) 29.1% non-white
1988 Dukakis--2941 (51%), Bush--2744 (5685 voters)
2004 Bush--3526 (53%), Kerry--3027 (6553 voters)
Now to Kansas, where the nation's largest meatpacking plants and highest concentration of Hispanic laborers reside....
Lyon County (Emporia) 22.7% non-white
1988 Bush--6820 (56%), Dukakis--5314 (12,134 voters)
2004 Bush--7951 (60%), Kerry--5234 (13,185 voters)
Ford County (Dodge City) 42.7% non-white
1988 Bush--5685 (59%), Dukakis--3817 (9502 voters)
2004 Bush--6632 (74%), Kerry--2286 (8918 voters)
Finney County (Garden City) 48.6% non-white
1988 Bush--5381 (61%), Dukakis--3408 (8789 voters)
2004 Bush--7479 (75%), Kerry--2351 (9830 voters)
Seward County (Liberal...the most ironically named town in America) 50.6% non-white
1988 Bush--4089 (71%), Dukakis--1655 (5744 voters)
2004 Bush--4272 (79%), Kerry--1122 (5394 voters)
These are just a random sample, but par for the course. In every single instance, Great Plains meatpacking towns got MORE REPUBLICAN even as their Hispanic populations exploded, in some cases to a near-majority. And while I'm not as knowledgeable about which counties in the South host major poultry processing plants, the two most prominent examples that I know of [Hall County, Georgia (Gainesville) and Benton County, Arkansas (Rogers, Bentonville)] have similarly become even stronger GOP bastions over the span of time that their Hispanic population has soared.
Even in California, the effect of Hispanic immigration has been conflicting. Certainly, Hispanics living near urban centers on the California coast have improved Democratic chances, but how about in the even more Hispanic-centric counties in Central California's produce and dairy regions? Again, they're more Republican: Fresno County (49% Dukakis vs. 42% Kerry); Kern County (37% Dukakis vs. 32% Kerry); and Stanislaus County (46% Dukakis vs. 40% Kerry). These are only three large-scale examples indicative of the entire region's trendline, despite the fact that Hispanics make up a MAJORITY in many of these counties.
So what's going on?
Are Hispanics becoming Republicans? To a small extent, yes. The regional voting figures validate the exit poll numbers showing that Hispanics were far more likely to vote for Bush in 2004 than any other recent Republican candidate. Theoretically, the conservative cultures of places like Dodge City, Kansas, would indoctrinate a larger number of Hispanics to vote Republican than would Hispanics living in Las Vegas, for example. But there's far more to it than that.....
The real problem is that Hispanics simply are not voting. That's why in many of the counties I singled out above, the number of overall voters actually declined between 1988 and 2004. Chew on these figures. Non-Hispanic whites make up 68% of the American population, but made up 77% of the 2004 electorate. Considering that exit polls indicated that voter turnout among blacks was almost at parity with voter turnout among whites, that leaves only one major ethnic demographic pulling up the rear.
County-by-county voter statistics bear this out. The aforementioned Finney County, Kansas, which has the largest meatpacking plant in the country, has an approximate population of 33,000, with a 2004 voter turnout of 9830 voters. Comparatively, my home county of Freeborn County, Minnesota, which also has an immigrant population of about 7%, has a population of approximately 32,000 with a 2004 voter turnout of 17,414 voters. That's almost double. And Freeborn County went 55% Kerry.
And I'm not singling out Hispanics for a scolding for not voting. The fact is that a huge percentage of them are ineligible to vote. Legal residency in America (which most Hispanics have) is far different than citizenship, which is required to attain voting rights. A college roommate of mine immigrated from Mexico in 1990, and by the 1998 midterms, was still not eligible for citizenship....and he was adopted by a rich family so access was not a problem. By every measure, Hispanic immigration without a fast track to citizenship is politically and economically counterproductive.
Especially in Minnesota and Iowa, meatpacking jobs were unionized and paid extremely well up until the mid-1980's when the industry meltdown that had already hit the beef side of the business hit the pork side of the business. In towns like the aforementioned Worthington, Minnesota, and Storm Lake, Iowa, among numerous others, the slaughterhouses were the largest employers in town and the nearly all-white workforce was politically engaged. In the 20 years since, the nearly all-immigrant workforce earns 38 cents on the dollar in wages (adjusted for inflation), is generally non-union, and is politically inactive, often because most of their workforce are not citizens.
Adding insult to injury, most of the immigrant workforce is fluid, recycled in and out of the packinghouses and the communities that host them over the course of months. When one recent immigrant leaves the area, either because of frequent OTJ injuries or disgust with the living and working conditions he or she has to endure, another new immigrant replaces him or her. It's an endless cycle that rarely produces upward mobility for the plants' workforces and keeps the workforces permanently disengaged from political activity. This centralizes voting in the respective communities in the hands of the white citizens, who no longer work in the slaughterhouse where the union influence previously resulted in their voting Democrat, but no longer does. And these same white voters are now more likely to have a xenophobic us-versus-them mentality towards immigrants who are now working at the jobs that they're now told "Americans won't do" even though the white workers did them for decades with sufficient compensation. This culture promotes a rising tide of Republican voting, as evidenced in nearly all of the case studies I provided above.
What's the solution? Hard to say, but it'll take decades of waiting before Hispanic immigration even has the potential of producing the same effect on Kansas, Georgia, Arkansas and North Carolina that it's had on California and Nevada. And by that time, permanent damage will have been done to the economic institutions most of us as Democrats hold sacred. Supporting unbridled immigration policy as a means of securing a future Democratic majority simply won't work, and the only people who will truly gain from it will be the food processing barons who will get even richer off of the continued cheap labor of an immigrant pipeline. Bush's prescribed "guest worker program" would be the worst of all worlds, allowing said barons to get all the benefits out of immigrants (cheap labor) with none of the responsibilities (the prospect of future political empowerment of these immigrants, who will never become citizens as "guest workers".)
As progressives, we have a serious decision to make on the immigration issue. Do we promote the recreation of the Gilded Age and its regressive consequences in the name of "celebrating diversity", "welcoming newcomers", or "filling jobs Americans won't do"? Or do we think outside the box to preserve liveable wages and working conditions at jobs in America, helping improve the quality of life in Latin America and elsewhere so that we won't need to absorb as many low-skill and semi-skill immigrants as we do currently, and expand political participation among Hispanic non-citizens so that they're not a permanent shadow culture in a shadow economy. If we decide to go with the former, as I suspect many will choose to do, we'll be guilty of a "hat trick" of betrayal...betrayal of our existing American workforce, betrayal of the very Hispanic immigrants we think we're helping, and betrayal of the Democratic Party who will fade even further into the oblivion if a higher percentage of the nation's working class are disempowered non-citizens who are at best decades away from voting rights.