The Spanish-speaking mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Dalton, Georgia is attended by a crowded crowd. Polls here 1293

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House bill 87

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FAST IMMIGRATION IMMIGRATION

In the United States, 40 million people were born abroad. Of these, 72 percent are legal immigrants and 28 percent are unauthorized.

Approximately 4.5 million US-born children were born to at least one unauthorized parent.

Inflows of unauthorized immigrants from Mexico have decreased from 500,000 per year in the first half of the decade to 150,000 per year from 2007 to 2009.

Around 325,000 unauthorized immigrants are employed in Georgia, 7 percent of the total. This makes Georgia one of the countries with the largest number and the largest proportion of unauthorized immigrants in the workforce.

In Whitfield County, the Hispanic population increased from 18,419 in 2000 to 32,471 in 2010, a change of 76.29 percent.

Source: Pew Hispanic Center

abstract

The number of illegal immigrants in Georgia fell from 475,000 in 2007 to 425,000 in 2010, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Unauthorized residents make up only 4.4 percent of the total population in Georgia, but the increase from 1990 to 2010 was twelve-fold. Twenty years ago there were only 35,000 illegal immigrants in Peach State.

ALABAMA LAW

A federal judge put most of Alabama’s immigration law into effect, now considered the strictest in the country.

Among other things, school officials have to check the immigration status of students. The law now allows police officers to check the legal status of those detained for other reasons and to detain suspected illegal immigrants without commitment.

Parts of the law that are still blocked include that it is a crime for an illegal immigrant to solicit work, to transport or house an illegal immigrant, and to prevent drivers from stopping on a street to hire agency workers .

Similar laws were passed in Arizona, Utah, Indiana, and Georgia, but portions of those laws have been blocked by other federal judges.

Source: The Associated Press

ABOUT THE GEORGIA LAW

Jan 1, 2012: Individuals applying for public benefits such as housing allowances, grocery stamps and business licenses are required to provide a “secure and verifiable” document to provide proof of legal residence.

Private employers with 500 or more employees must register for and use the federal work permit program known as E-Verify.

July 1, 2012: Private employers with 100 or more employees but fewer than 500 employees must also use E-Verify.

July 1, 2013: Private employers with more than 10 employees but fewer than 100 employees must also use E-Verify.

The law established a seven-person Immigration Enforcement Review Board to investigate complaints from registered voters that city, county and state officials are failing to enforce immigration laws in Georgia.

Public employers and local governments are required to submit a compliance report to the state auditor every year. Subject to the funds available, the state auditor is required to conduct a series of audits.

Source: Georgia General Assembly

DALTON, Ga. – When Georgia Republican governor Nathan Deal signed one of the toughest immigration laws in the country in May, many Hispanics in the region panicked.

People in the Hispanic community began to stay at home. You no longer risked being caught driving without a license. Taxi drivers picked up customers after the Sunday service. Some Hispanics packed their bags and moved to Texas, Oklahoma, or Tennessee.

“People were afraid to come to church. We saw a noticeable drop in church attendance in June and July,” said Rev. Paul Williams of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.

On July 1, House Bill 87 went into effect, a new immigration law that lawmakers had promised to stem the rising tide of illegal immigrants in Georgia. About 40 percent of immigrants in the Whitfield County area are unauthorized according to local estimates. There are approximately 32,000 Hispanics in the county.

Most people in the Dalton-Whitfield County’s Hispanic community know someone who has left the state, plans to leave, or has been deported.

But others waited. A federal judge made two provisions of the law: one would allow police officers to verify the immigration status of those detained for other reasons, and the other would punish those who, while committing another crime, knowingly promote illegal immigrants – provisions that unauthorized immigrants affected most of them.

Fear in the Hispanic community subsided over the summer. School enrollment did not decrease as elected officials and community leaders expected by law.

“It has likely caused unnecessary panic in the Hispanic community because it doesn’t do much different than what we’ve done in the past,” said Mike Babb, chairman of the Whitfield County Commission.

Dianne Putnam, a Dalton native who supports the law, said she hadn’t seen any changes due to the law. She said she is not against someone who legally comes in and becomes part of the community, but the laws must be obeyed.

Illegal immigrants are not eligible for most federal public services like food stamps, but their US-born children do, and that needs to change, said Putnam, chair of the Whitfield County Republican Party. The Republican Party has not commented on this issue.

“As long as we make it attractive, we’re adding to the problem,” she said. “I don’t want a child to go hungry, but if you are in a decent church your church family will gather around you and satisfy that need.”

Three months after the law came into force, the mood in St. Joseph is different. A recently completed ministry was crowded with more than 1,000 people. Dozens of Hispanics came in, dipped their index fingers in holy water, made the sign of the cross, and then tried to find a place to sit or stand.

“The Hispanic community is bigger than people think and much more ingrained than people think,” said Williams of St. Joseph’s.

IT’S THE ECONOMY

Dalton Mayor David Pennington said the immigration law has not had a dramatic impact.

The economy, with huge declines in the city’s flooring, carpet and construction industries, is a bigger factor in Hispanics’ exit, government officials said.

Since 2006, almost one in five jobs has been lost on Metro Dalton. Georgia lost 29,500 jobs from September 2010 to August 2011, the highest number in the nation.

The unemployment rate remains in double digits at 10.7 percent in the northwest Georgia region, which includes Whitfield County.

Pennington said he knew that in the past three years when the economy took a nosedive, people had walked away because of empty houses, “for rent” signs outside of residential buildings, and at one point refused to collect trash.

Born in Mexico, Alfredo Nuñez moved to Dalton from California in 1999 because relatives told him there was a lot of work.

At that time, according to the Times Free Press news archives, about 1,000 manufacturing jobs were created annually. The influx of Hispanic workers has been a boon to local industries in a county that had more than 62,000 jobs for just 54,000 resident workers and an unemployment rate of less than 2.5 percent.

But that has changed.

In 2009, Nuñez, an unauthorized immigrant, had to partially close his Mexican restaurant because he had to prove he was legally in the country in order to renew his business license. He also saw a decline in customers.

“Everyone left,” he said.

His family did not wait to see the outcome of Georgia’s new law. In January, months before the law was even signed, the family packed up and moved to Cleveland, Tennessee, where he said the laws weren’t as strict and the economy was better.

“Dalton had become very dangerous and I was afraid for my family,” said Nuñez.

Roadside checks in Whitfield County, and particularly Dalton, where officials ask for a driver’s license, have created a great deal of fear in the community, he said.

“There were a lot of roadblocks all over the city at all times,” said Nuñez.

Illegal immigrants cannot get a driver’s license in Georgia, which is a fingerprint crime. Once they are posted in jail and the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office determines they are in the country illegally, the person is given immigration protection to be deported.

The loss of jobs in the carpet industry coupled with stricter immigration enforcement led Maria Jimenez and her family to sell everything they could and move to Minnesota, where she has relatives.

“There is no work and the police get very tough on people [in Dalton]”said Jimenez, who is a legal permanent resident but has relatives who are undocumented.

Jimenez’s husband lost his job at a carpet factory in June and couldn’t find a job, she said as she stood in the parking lot of a closed shop on East Morris Street in Dalton selling a bed, dresser and jeans, jackets and shoes.

“My husband made $ 14 an hour. If he’s going to a job, they want to pay him $ 7.25,” she said as she held her Chihuahua “Tita” in her arms. “What do we do with this wage?”

Others, even if they are not legally in the country, have chosen to stay.

Jorge Munguia has lived in Dalton since 1999 and hopes to legalize his status soon. He said he knew a lot of people who left, but he was willing to wait.

“My job and my family keep me here,” he said as he left St. Joseph’s Church.

Contact Perla Trevizo at ptrevizo@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6578. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Perla_Trevizo.