A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Bill Straub: Take Carrollton KY, a good, safe place to live (as it should be) but diverse with ‘darker’ people

Some years back, at least a quarter-century ago when the burley economy was still thriving, I spent a couple days in Carrollton to research an article on migrant labor.

I recall driving toward the Ohio River at the northern edge of town one evening when I happened upon a grocery store, and not just any grocery store. It was painted in red and green and the signs out front were all in Spanish. In this little out-of-the-way Kentucky town of fewer than 4,000, halfway between Louisville and Cincinnati, a market had opened catering to the tastes of the farmworkers who arrived to, among other things, cut and house tobacco.

At the time I thought it was a wonderful indicator -– a small town opening its doors and welcoming folks from a different culture who ventured in, worked hard, and were still able to enjoy some of their beloved customs.

It seemed like the way America ought to be.

The next day I interviewed a local farmer whose name, I’m sorry to say, has escaped my fading memory. He readily hired Mexican laborers because they not only toiled without complaint but they filled back-breaking positions that most local residents sought to avoid.

The farmer noted that he generally hired the same migrants who came through every year. Several of them, he said, had become among his best friends in the world.

Carrollton to this day remains a small, quiet, river town. And Carroll County, according to U.S. Census Bureau, has the fifth largest percentage of Latino residents in the state.

A Pew Research Center study estimated that, as of 2014, 752 individuals of Hispanic origin lived within the county’s borders – 7 percent of its population of 10,815. Carrollton itself, according to most recent data, is 9.2 percent Latino.

All things considered, then, Carrollton and Carroll County seem to be doing quite well, considering the high percentage of rapists, gang-bangers and drug mules that, according to President Trump (OMG!), must live within its borders. It’s been five years since Carrollton experienced a murder. There were no rapes reported in 2017. The city’s overall crime rate is 35 percent lower than the national average.

Which doesn’t make much sense.

To hear Trump tell it, the United States is being invaded by Mexicans and other Latin Americans of various stripe crossing the border without proper authority, infesting the nation, leading to high incidence of crime and creating economic turmoil.

America’s immigration laws are, to Trump, “laughed at all over the world.’’ He imposed a zero-tolerance policy regarding illicit crossings – which may or may not still be in effect – and created a public outcry over separating children from asylum seekers and illegal crossers after taking them into custody.

That policy has been countermanded but the U.S. is holding more than 2,000 of these children – many of whom were kept in cages like dogs — and no one has any idea how to reunite them with their parents.

The U.S., under Humpty-Trumpy, is now even refusing to consider asylum for victims of domestic violence or those fleeing murderous gangs.

All because of some non-existent threat.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best,’’ Trump said when he announced he was running for president. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they’re telling us what we’re getting.”

People, presumably, like some of the good folks in Carrollton.

In order to keep Mexicans from illegally crossing the border, Trump has rather famously insisted that the U.S. build a “big, beautiful wall,’’ paid for by Mexico. But, for some reason, the Mexican government has balked at this offer and now Humpty-Trumpy is threatening to shut down the federal government come November unless Congress agrees to provide construction funds.

That has not proved to be a popular proposal among opposition Democrats. So Trump has taken to warning the republic might fall unless they relent.

“Democrats are the problem,” he wrote in a recent tweet. “They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13. They can’t win on their terrible policies, so they view them as potential voters!”

And it goes on and on.

To Trump’s befuddled mind, undocumented immigrants crossing the southern border somehow create a grave danger. But available evidence shows it really isn’t a crisis at all.

There is little, for instance, to indicate that illegal immigrants are somehow contributing to a rise in the crime rate. FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, reported that nationwide crime statistics broken down by immigration status are not readily available.

“But the available research that estimates the relationship between illegal immigration and crime generally shows an association with lower crime rates,’’ the group said.

And at a time of low unemployment, a claim that Humpty-Trumpy is constantly bragging about, it’s hard to claim undocumented workers are harming the economy.

It could be that the great crisis along the nation’s southern border with Mexico as described by El Presidente isn’t a crisis at all. Maybe it’s the invention of a dangerous demagogue who rabidly seeks to garner support for his ugly political agenda by inventing a dangerous villain — a strawman who just happens to be brown and speaks a language that differs from that heard in much of America – that he can attack.

It’s another case of Trump, the bully, punching down on defenseless people of color who are either hoping to better themselves economically or find a safe haven, which has come to be his specialty.

Some might call it racist. But we’re all supposed to be more civil these days.
This is not a question of open borders. America is a great place. In fact, I wish everyone could be an American and enjoy the fruits of this existence. But it’s impossible and it’s not wrong to want a secure border.

Still, it wasn’t that long ago that Mexicans rather freely crossed over into places like Brownsville and McAllen, TX, for a job and then returned home at night. They are not rapists or drug lords, just folks trying to make a buck. And painting them as evil incarnate is, as New York Times Paul Krugman recently said, blood libel.

What Humpty-Trumpy is seeking is rather obvious overkill. It’s a bird whistle blasting out a warning about the growing influence of people of color in the United States and he aims to stop it.

But change isn’t coming, it’s already here. As of 2013, a majority of infants under the age of three in the U.S. were non-white. In 26 states, white deaths now outnumber white births. The Census Bureau predicts that white folks will no longer hold the majority come 2045.

Trump is using the coming tide to spread fear among his constituency, which is almost totally white. He is building a wall to stop the arrival of a darker shade of America. It ultimately will fail. But in the process, he could make the nation a miserable place.

Carrollton, with its substantial Latino population, is not a miserable place.

It is said, in fact, to form the inspiration for Hargrave, Ky, found in many of the stories created by the great Kentucky writer Wendell Berry.

It still exists, a good place to live, on the banks of the Ohio, even with a darker complexion.

KyForward’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

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One Comment

  1. Mark Nolan says:

    Thanks

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