Towards a Better Life: The World of an Immigrant in Omaha

Theresa Aguirre and Anyi Rodriguez

Immigration in Omaha is significant and constant. In the past 20 years, Omaha, NE has taken pride in their diversity, but it cannot be achieved without immigration. This piece will address the factors of community, diversity, discrimination in the workplace, education, and economy as related to immigration in Omaha and its impact on the general population. The world is becoming more globalized and populated. It is crucial to understand immigration and the effects it can/will have on the population.


Nationwide scholarly articles from New Political Science, Crossmark, The Sociological Quarterly, and Dissent and Migration World magazines were gathered. Then, local sources like Nebraska Appleseed, Immigrant Legal Center, Omaha World-Herald, New American Economy, UNL Studies, and the Latino Center of the Midlands were gathered and analyzed as well. Orientating memos were then created from these sources, after that, the orientating memos were discussed and themes that showed up often were created. With these themes, two tables were created, one for each type of source information from the two tables was then compared and contrasted analyzing both immigration nationwide and in Omaha.



The origin of immigrants has become widely spread, and it can be measured due to today’s technology. Officials can know the demography of many people who are immigrants and asylum seekers by race, gender, age, and much more. Some of the top countries of origin from immigrants is Mexico with 35.5%, India 6.2%, China 4.5%, Guatemala 4.4%, El Salvador 3% and many others that are not mentioned ( American Immigration Council). Gender has also played a role in immigration. In Nebraska, 56,293 women are immigrants, 50,756 men are immigrants, and approximately 11,341 children are immigrants.  Immigrants are not the only people that have a significant impact. Many of the people in the United States are here because they are seeking asylum. As said in a UNL study, Immigrants in Omaha can be professionals from Africa and Asia, political refugees from Bosnia, people in search of a better life, legally or illegally, from a host of Latin American countries. Nebraska is a state that is diverse in immigrants and people who seek asylum for themselves and their families.


Community plays a significant role in the initial arrival of immigrants. The community can have either a positive or negative impact on immigrants. According to a UNL study, most Omaha communities welcome people from many different countries, all in different stages of acculturation, language learning, and job seeking. Several organizations help refugees to resettle in the United States; help immigrants when necessary, and help poor people meet their needs. Despite all of this positive light, Omaha is still extremely segregated. OPS identified more than two dozen linguistic groups among its student body. The Latino Center of the Midlands offers student advocates who mentor youth who are at risk of disengaging with the education system and address attendance barriers as a pathway to graduation and future success. Despite increasing diversity, Omaha remains a segregated city. As Western Omaha is continuing to develop farther, this segregation will only continue.

Services Available

Again, Omaha has plenty of services throughout the community to help Omaha’s undocumented population. The Omaha World-Herald notes that many local organizations provide legal services, education, and advocacy. A short list of these community-driven organizations is as follows: Juan Diego Center, Open Door Mission, Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska, Consulado de México, and Latina Resource Center.


A significant part of the American dream is getting an education and using that education to land a spot in an enjoyable and well-paying career field. This process sounds pretty straight forward and to the point for a citizen, but what does this mean for undocumented youth? For many immigrants, education can be a challenge, especially when there are many obstacles in their everyday life. Some immigrants aspire to have a degree, but others, because of financial circumstances, are not able to.  As said in the American immigration council, around 22.4% has a college degree or more, 15.2% some college, 22.4% high school diploma only and 40.0% less than a high school diploma. The Latino center of the Midlands provides access to after-school and summer programming, access to college planning that includes FAFSA, scholarships, and referrals Programs, scholarships, federal aid. As for college students, UNO has seven scholarships for undocumented students since students without documentation automatically do not qualify for federal aid; they are entirely reliant on scholarships or paying out of pocket (very unlikely). DACA is an American immigration policy that allows illegal individuals after being brought to the country as children to receive a two-year renewable period of deferred action from deportation and become eligible for a work permit in the U.S. (Hsin and Ortega). How does this tie into education? A majority of the people who receive DACA come from financially unstable homes, leading to the work permit, driving them to drop out of school to work and provide for their family.

Discrimination in the Workforce

For many immigrants, one of the main reasons to immigrate to the United States is for employment opportunities, especially in Nebraska. Employment rates of undocumented people are high in many states. In Nebraska, 1 in 8 workers is an immigrant. Undocumented immigrants have comprised 3.2% of the workforce of the state in 2014 (American Immigration Council). Immigrants should be appreciated as they make a high impact on the workforce, not only mature and skillful people, but the youth has excellent skills that have a significant impact. Darcy Tromanhauser, Immigrants and Communities program director of Nebraska Appleseed, described it as “There is now a great and widespread appreciation of immigrant youth—their skills, their knowledge, their energy. People are saying we need this next generation” (Greene). However, although employment for immigrants is high, the treatment of immigrant employees is unjust. In 2011 FAIR, Kobach, and local supporters overplayed their hand by trying to pass a statewide bill similar to Arizona’s infamous “Show Me Your Papers” measure. (Greene). This is an excellent example of how, although, immigrants have a good impact on the economy and is high in population, there will always be discrimination because of origins. Immigrants, although they face many obstacles, they try to do their best for their families. Many immigrants are entrepreneurs that, above all the prejudices. According to the New American Economy, of 64,067 immigrants, 2,443 of them are entrepreneurs. Not only that, but 3.5% of the entrepreneurs generate around $65.5 million in business income.


Americans care significantly about the economy and what its impact can do on their individual lives. So what is the effect immigration plays on the economy? It is a very positive and number satisfying one. The Omaha World-Herald notes that a lot of immigrant entrepreneurs providing service and paying taxes. In fact, according to a statistically based study done by the New American Economy, in Omaha 2443 of Immigrants are entrepreneurs with $391.0 M taxes  paid. This study also notes that “immigrant households contribute hundreds of billions of dollars in federal income, state, and local taxes nationwide and hold a tremendous amount of spending power, $1.2 billion.” The American Immigration Council notes that DACA plays a part in the economy as well, with a work permit being part of the program, DACA recipients in NE paid an estimated $7.7 million in state and local taxes. The relation of immigration and economy is a great one and is beneficial to both sides of the spectrum.



The diversity of the United States has grown throughout the years, and many people from different countries are emigrating to the United States, increasing the chances of the United States diversity to grow at an unspeakable rate. The article, “Unauthorized aliens residing in the United States: Estimates since 1986” approximates the growth since 1986. She mentions the estimated population of the Alien population from the year 1986 to the 2000s or later. (Wasem) She gathers this information from the U.S, Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS). It mentions that the alien population has risen from 3.2 million to 11.8 million from 1986 to 2008, and this is not including immigrants with certain visas. The growth throughout the years can be seen in the expansion and settlement of these immigrants.

Furthermore, with the general statistics and understanding how diversity has grown, there can be an understanding of some of the patterns in the Omaha area. The top countries of origin from immigrants based on ethnicity. Some of the top immigrants that migrate are from Mexico with 35. 5%, India 6.2%, China 4.5%, Guatemala 4.4%, and El Salvador being 3% of the population just in Omaha and not including other countries that were not mentioned (American Immigration Council). If Omaha has grown in diversity and has accepted many of these immigrants in this state, then it is understandable why has the United States population grown at an impeccable rate from the past 20 years if many states welcome immigrants. Not only that, but it can be seen in the UNL study that immigrants in Omaha can be professionals from Africa and Asia, political refugees from Bosnia, people in search of better life opportunities. This can give an idea of the diversity not only in population but also in the workforce.


Communities and the general population of Omaha have been in constant growth. “Population increasing since 1986 to 2000s and later percent of the population of unauthorized people from different countries” (Ruth Ellen Wasem.) The UNL study addresses the fact that communities have adapted to these changes, proof of this is the help and willingness to welcome people from many different countries, all in different stages of acculturation, language learning and job seeking. Several organizations help refugees to resettle in the United States; help immigrants when necessary, and help poor people meet their needs. The population is increasing, and the community is responding with help, programs, and the desire to turn these immigrants into successful members of the community.

Moving on, the Latino Center of the Midlands provides student advocates who mentor youth who are at risk of disengaging with the education system and address attendance barriers as a pathway to graduation and future success. In an academic article written by Janine De Novais published in 2013, it is written that “Students are worrying more about being deported than focusing on their education.” Luckily, through the help of the community-driven Latino Center of the Midlands, it is a goal to mentor undocumented children into making tough decisions so they can eventually be productive and healthy members of their new communities.


DACA’s two-year work permit has led to college dropouts (Amy Hsin and Francesc Ortega). In correlation, the New American Economy states that only 13.9% of the Immigrant population attains a bachelor’s degree. 13.9 is a deficient number, and the likely and understandable explanation could be DACA’s two-year work permit.

In continuation, a paper written by Daniel T. Litcher titled “Immigration and the New Racial Diversity in Rural America” it is written that segregated schools are unable to teach immigrant children making them more likely to drop out. Unfortunately, Omaha is known for its segregation… as seen in figure 1.

Figure 1

Figure 1 (1)



Discrimination in the Workforce

Discrimination in the workforce is a topic that many people are not capable of understanding and believe that discriminating people because of their background or their ethnicity is common in many places. In an article written by Joerg Dietz titled, “Introduction to the Special Issue on Employment Discrimination Against Immigrants,” it expresses that discrimination is defined as “unfair behavioral biases” which gives the people an understanding that discrimination in the workforce is a significant problem. Personal beliefs and personal biases are the fundamentals of how other people view immigrants and believe that they may be superior in a certain way to them.

Moving on discrimination in the workplace can be seen in many places. For example, by trying to pass a statewide bill similar to Arizona’s infamous “Show Me Your Papers” is an act that brings many conflicts for people that support immigrants and for those that are immigrants themselves. It brings chaos, sadness, and a feeling of being scared to work. Above all of these, there are many immigrants that instead of being intimidated, they use that fear to gather more confidence, and many have become entrepreneurs. Their American dream comes with many obstacles, but those obstacles can turn into opportunities.


The economy of the United States is a topic that is discussed considerably among economists and political figures. Americans care significantly about their economy and how the economy impacts their lives. In an article written by Lydio Tomasi called, “Immigrants benefit the economy,”  illustrates the effect that immigrants have on the United States economy. For example, it is explained that “the $10 billion added yearly by immigrants to the national economic output might be a tiny part of the $7 trillion American economy (0.1%), but the sober and systematic assessment of the academy’s report that legal and illegal immigration together are neither boon nor bust, and ultimately benefit the U.S. economy (Tomasi). There are millions and millions of dollars that immigrants pay on taxes every year, and even when many journals confirm it, many people believe that immigrants do not contribute to the United States economy.

Further, these economic impacts can appear in the Omaha area. Many immigrants have their own business, and they have become entrepreneurs. It approximates that around $391.0 M of taxes is being paid by immigrants and approximately $7.7 million in state and local taxes are paid by DACA recipients (American Immigration Council). Their contribution many neither boom nor bust the economy, but it ultimately benefits by keeping it stable.


Looking closely to Omaha, immigration settlement and its impact on Omaha has been a phase that will not end as time goes by. Immigration will be growing as states open their borders to immigrants that all they want is to become the best of themselves, have a better future for their families, better education, better job opportunities and better ways to thrive in a country that had built in immigrants. As new immigrants come from all over the world, there will be a considerable increment of population. Places like Omaha will become the home for these immigrants. Further, the workforce, its diversity, economy, education, and community will still be maintaining the same. Not only that but its segregated geography will always be a part of the Omaha’s community. As new generations arrive, they bring their kindness, their skills, knowledge, and energy to thrive. These are some of the qualities that immigrants that have settled in Omaha share with immigrants that have settled in other places in the United States.



















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