Last updated on 2015.01.24
It's –7°F in Huron this morning. Who'd give up tropical sunshine for weather like that?
Political refugees from Burma/Myanmar, that's who. The Karen people are an ethnic group from Southeast Asia. About 50,000 have come to America to escape political oppression and forced labor at the hands of the Burmese military dictatorship.
About 1,600 to 1,800* of those Karen refugees have settled in Huron. The BBC mobile bureau offers this video snapshot of the Karen workers at Dakota Provisions in Huron:
According to BBC's Anna Bressanin's report, Karen immigrants make up 61% of the workforce at Dakota Provisions and 9% of the workforce in Beadle County. (In November 2014, there were 9,495 jobs in Beadle County; 9% of that is 855.) That majority-Karen workforce kills and processes 21,000 turkeys a day. About 500 of their kids attend Huron public schools.
Bressanin's report is snapshot, not in-depth report. She finds one grouchy neighbor, Larry Benston, who complains that the Karen living next door (both sides!) don't communicate at all with him and his fellow Anglo retiree-neighbors. One house has over twenty people living in it, and Benston says they killed a hog in their back yard.
Whether you're proud of South Dakota as a beacon of freedom and $12/hour employment for political refugees or are annoyed that your town is less Anglo than it used to be, remember: the Karen influx is brought to you by the EB-5 visa investment program, the economic development initiative that was pivotal in keeping Jeff Sveen's turkey plant running.
Seven below—nice day to be inside a nice warm turkey plant.
*Update 2015.01.24 10:07 CST: The Greater Huron Development Corporation, in its November 2014 application for a state Community Incentives Matching Program Grant, says the local Karen population is about 2,500.