News Local/State

UI Planning Prof: Immigrant Residents In Beardstown ‘Fearful’ Of Deportations

U of I Urban and Regional Planning Professor Faranak Miraftab discusses her research of Beardstown at the University YMCA Friday.

U of I Urban and Regional Planning Professor Faranak Miraftab discusses her research of Beardstown at the University YMCA Friday. Jeff Bossert/Illinois Public Media

Recent deportation raids targeting undocumented immigrants around the country have raised concerns in the Illinois River community of Beardstown, where a local meatpacking plant has attracted many immigrant workers. University of Illinois urban and regional planning professor Faranak Miraftab has made a study of Beardstown, and the JBS meatpacking plant there that employs workers from Mexico, West Africa and other places.

They are very fearful – it’s a very tense situation, because they are all feeling secure,” she said, addressing about 50 people at the University YMCA in Champaign last week. “Not that before they felt safe, but it is more (now) – the intensity of the problem is higher.”

Miraftab published a book last year called “Global Heartland: Displaced Labor, Transnational Lives, and Local Placemaking” about packing plant employees who are displaced from their home country.

The urban planning professor says they come to work in Beardstown, and often rely on financial support of those back home in order to accept the low-wage jobs.

Miraftab says there’s a lot at stake at the city’s majority-minority school district as the Trump administration steps up deportations.

She says school officials spent one summer going door to door to convince parents that dual language lessons in English and Spanish were needed:

“Sometimes they spent a whole evening with one family,” she said. “So it was both a culture change, but in the trust, also being able to convince them that it was good for the school. The tensions were at the school were at the level that teachers needed to do something about it.”

Miraftab says she hopes to recruit some legal resources in Champaign to provide "know your rights" training for Beardstown families.

This graphic from Prof. Maraftab's presentation examines the history of migrant workers coming to Beardstown.

Photo Credit: Jeff Bossert/Illinois Public Media

The professor says she first stumbled upon the city when one of her students was studying housing and migrant farm workers. 

She quickly learned they came from not only Mexico, but the West African nation of Togo.

“Once you arrive, it’s mesmerizing, it’s unbelievable,” Maraftab said, citing a variety of cultures judging from the clothes worn there and music playing in cars. “Then I had to figure out – where do these people come from?  And why do they come here, and why do they stay, and the others don’t?”

Beardstown was once known as a "sundown town," where minorities were only allowed within city limits during daylight hours.

Maraftab’s address was part of the University YMCA Spring 2017 Friday Forum Lecture series.