Veterinarian welcomes immigration in rural Iowa

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Denison, Iowa - As the nation's attention turns toward political initiatives to overhaul the U.S. immigration system, a mixed animal practitioner living in a small city with a huge immigration surge believes the trend will protect his business.

DENISON, IOWA — As the nation's attention turns toward political initiatives to overhaul the U.S. immigration system, a mixed animal practitioner living in a small city with a huge immigration surge believes the trend will protect his business.

Dr. Kevin McKeown, a 27-year Denison, Iowa, resident, has witnessed the immigration surge that's raised the rural town's population from 6,000 to roughly 8,000 in the past seven years. Mexican immigrants now make up a quarter of its residents.

The direct impact on McKeown's mixed-animal practice is small; few immigrants house pets that translate to increases in the veterinarian's bottom line. Most of the city's Hispanic residents, legal U.S. citizens or otherwise, work at two of the area's meat-packing plants. For observers, Denison embodies anti-immigration tension that's ignited calls for border reform in Congress. The city, detailed in Dale Maharidge's 1995 book "Searching for the Soul of America through the Secrets of a Midwest Town," attracts media pundits and politicians. Last month, NBC Nightly News highlighted Denison as a microcosm representing the 12-million illegal immigrants estimated in the United States.

McKeown, who dabbles in learning the Spanish language, describes Denison's new residents as "hard-working, wonderful people." While Iowa declines in population, Denison is growing, he says.

"People worry about protecting our culture, but that doesn't put fear in me," he says. "Frankly, I'm just happy to see some growth. It protects my business. We never were a big white-collar community."

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