The climate refugees settling in America’s heartland

According to legend, the gradual movement of an island nation to middle America all started with one man. John Moody, a high-school graduate, pioneer, and now almost mythological character, left the Marshall Islands in the 1980s to find the American Dream in the Ozarks. Enchanted by tales of endless jobs and opportunities, family, friends, and later on, strangers, followed him.

Their American lives often begin in the chicken factories. In Springdale, the poultry industry is omnipresent: When you can’t see its silos or endless factory complexes, the smell reminds you. Schools, sports centers, and highways are named after poultry tycoon Don Tyson. As the source of the bulk of America’s fast-food chicken, the city calls itself the world’s capital of poultry.

At the Marshallese consulate in Springdale, underneath four clocks that show the time in the Marshall Islands, Hawaii, Arkansas, and Washington, D.C., job application forms for Tyson and other poultry giants are up for grabs on the reception desk. Ferdinand started working in poultry factories — and sending money home — as soon as he finished high school.

“It’s kinda a hard job,” Ferdinand says, laughing. “And a dirty job. It smells too.”

The conglomerates thrive off the newcomers. After scandals surrounding the exploitation of undocumented migrant workers in the early 2000s, the Marshallese fit industry needs perfectly. Another disenfranchised minority group that had little alternative to the long, monotonous, and sometimes dangerous job of hanging, cutting, and killing birds, but this time, they were legal residents.