Thomas C. Sorensen Seminar: Rural Nebraska and Immigration


For the first time in its 11-year history, in 2006, the Annual Nebraska Rural Poll surveyed nearly 2,500 residents of rural Nebraska on their perceptions and opinions about immigration. In particular, respondents were asked about their thoughts on the increase in immigration from Latin America to rural communities, immigration policies, and the impact of immigration on the state and its communities. Poll responses indicated mixed results. Nearly one-half of respondents did not view immigration from Latin America as being positive for rural Nebraska. What does this snapshot indicate about rural Nebraska and its future?

To begin the seminar, Randy Cantrell and Miguel Carranza presented a PowerPoint: Perceptions of Latin American Immigration Among Rural Nebraskans, which discussed some of the results from the 2006 Annual Nebraska Rural Poll. A panel discussion consisting of a multidisciplinary group of University of Nebraska researchers addressed and analyzed the poll results and discussed its varied implications. Policymakers also offered their input and discussed policy issues relevant to immigration.

Senator Raymond Aguilar was born and raised in Grand Island, Nebraska. His family has made Grand Island their home for four generations. He graduated from Grand Island Senior High School and attended Central Community College in Grand Island. Senator Aguilar was appointed to the District 35 seat in June of 1999. In the 2000 election, Senator Aguilar officially won the seat with 74 percent of the vote. In 2004, Senator Aguilar ran unopposed for his second term. Statewide commissions he is a member of include the Governor’s Infant Mortality Blue Ribbon Panel, the Juvenile Diversion, Detention and Probation Services team, Task Force on the Productive Integration of the Immigrant Workforce Population, and the Minority Advisory Council to the Nebraska Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education, Central Nebraska Area Health Education Center (AHEC). Senator Aguilar chairs the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee; and is also a member of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee; Intergovernmental Cooperation Committee; and Committee on Committees.

Jose J. Soto has worked in the areas of mental health and education for the past 25 years. He has served as a consultant, educator, practitioner, and an administrator at the local and state levels in the public education and public mental health sectors. His professional activities have ranged from policy and program development to pre-service and in-service training, to the implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of community and institution-based programs. Since 1988, Mr. Soto has served as a consultant to and founding member of the National Cultural Competency Initiative Resource Committee to the National Policy Center for Children’s Mental Health Services, at the Georgetown University Child Development Center (Washington DC). Since 1992, Soto has served as Vice President for Affirmative Action/Equity/Diversity at Southeast Community College in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Darcy Tromanhauser, director of the Immigrant Integration and Civic Participation Program at Nebraska Appleseed Center. Appleseed’s immigrant program works to address immigration policy at the federal level and integration policy at the state and local level, as well as a variety of related issues – such as access to mainstream financial services and meatpacking worker health and safety – that impact newcomer integration and Nebraska’s future.

Seminar Leaders:
Randy Cantrell is a Community Development Specialist with the Nebraska Rural Initiative at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Dr. Cantrell received his B.A. in Anthropology and Economics from Michigan State University (1971), M.S. in Labor Studies from the New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations (1973), and Ph.D. in Development Sociology from Cornell University (1976). He joined the University of Nebraska staff in 1995. Prior to coming to Nebraska, Dr. Cantrell had a 17-year career with Cooperative Extension at the University of Minnesota in various outreach and administrative roles, culminating in five years as director of Outreach at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

Miguel Carranza is a professor of Sociology & Ethnic Studies/Latino and Latin American Studies at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Dr. Carranza’s areas of interest/specialization are Chicano/Latino Studies, Minority/Majority Relations, Minorities in Higher Education, Sociolinguistics, and the Sociology of Health. Dr. Carranza is co-author of the book, Ethnic Studies in the United States: A Guide to Research, published by Garland Publishing. Presently, he is involved in several collaborative research projects, including being principal investigator of a HUD Community Outreach Partnership Center New Directions grant; project manager of the Latino Achievement Mentoring Program, and is conducting research on the integration of Latino immigrants into the northern Great Plains region.

Moderator Dr. Alan Tomkins has been the director of the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center since its founding in 1998 after coming to the Center from the UNL Law/Psychology Program. Before coming to Nebraska in 1986, he worked with the Federal Judicial Center (Washington, DC) and in the Departments of Psychology at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) and St. Louis University. Alan’s doctorate in social psychology and his law degree are from Washington University. He also has been affiliated with the Department of Law, University of Southampton (England), and the Department of Psychology, Yonsei University (Seoul, Korea). In 2005-06, he served as inaugural William J. Clinton Distinguished Fellow at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. Among his other activities, he serves as Co-Editor of Court Review, the journal of the American Judges Association.

Lourdes Gouveia, Ph.D., is the director of the Office of Latino/Latin American Studies (OLLAS) and professor of sociology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Dr. Gouveia obtained her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Kansas in 1989. She has written extensively on meatpacking and immigrant labor, and on various Latino and Latin American issues. She is the principal investigator of a $1 million congressional earmark to expand the work of the Latino/Latin American Studies program at UNO, including research on the second generation and political and economic incorporation of new immigrants. She sits on the board of the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest and is also a board member in “La Red Internacional de Migración y Desarrollo” based in Mexico which brings together scholars, policymakers, and immigrant organizations from across America and the world.

Senator DiAnna Schimek has been a state senator representing District 27 in the Nebraska Legislature since 1989. She serves on the Legislature’s Committee on Committees, the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee and the Judiciary Committee, and she chairs the Performance Audit Committee. DiAnna’s legislative priorities during her years of service have been in the areas of children and families, health care, and election law. Senator Schimek is a past chair of the Midwestern Legislative Conference of the Council of State Governments (CSG) and serves on its executive committee. In 2003, she was appointed co-chair of the Intergovernmental Affairs Committee of the Council of State Governments and serves on the executive committee of CSG. In 2000, Senator Schimek was appointed by the governor to the Women’s Health Advisory Council. DiAnna has been involved in many community organizations including P.E.O., Downtown Rotary Club, and Habitat for Humanity.

Todd Wiltgen, state director for Senator Chuck Hagel. Todd is a native of Kearney, Nebraska, where his parents and siblings own and operate small businesses. He graduated from the University of Nebraska at Kearney with a degree in business administration with an accounting emphasis. In May of 1999, Todd moved to Lincoln and began working for U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel as a constituent services representative. His responsibilities included assisting Nebraska constituents experiencing problems with government agencies and private entities under contract to the government. Todd was named Senator Hagel’s state director in December 2005. Based in Lincoln, he helps manage staff and operations in Senator Hagel’s four state offices.

This seminar was free and open to students, staff, faculty, and members of the public. This event was co-sponsored by the Center for Applied Rural Innovation, Nebraska Rural Initiative, University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Arts and Sciences, and the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center.

Research Report:
Perceptions of Latin American Immigration Among Rural Nebraskans.

In the news:
Immigration Views Are Topic of Forum. (2007-03-05). Lincoln Journal Star