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Latinos Leaving Two Counties in Atlanta-Metropolitan Region

The Hispanic immigrant population in Gwinett and Cobb counties is shrinking as stepped-up law enforcement and brutal economic conditions take their toll. Last year, Gwinnet County law enforcement officials began screening prisoners on immigration status, becoming the fourth county in the state to do so. Undocumented inmates are being held for processing by federal immigration officials under the new policy. According to a piece in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 464 prisoners in the county illegally were discovered by the sheriff’s office. However, the number of inmates from foreign nations has declined sharply in recent months, down 32 percent from 2008.

The reduction in the immigrant prison population could be a sign that immigrants are fleeing the county to escape from deportation or that they are simply staying out of the way of law enforcement. Cobb County started the same program in 2007 and found more than 6,000 alleged illegal immigrants. Enrollment in English learning programs in public schools in Cobb and Gwinnett counties has remained flat during recent years after a prolonged period of steady growth. Nonetheless, these same English language programs have witnessed an increase in other Atlanta metro area schools that do not have tough immigration policies in place.

However, rough economic conditions could also be playing a factor. Because of their undocumented status, it is difficult to track illegal immigrants. Anecdotal evidence, such as businesses closing and declines in church attendance, suggest that immigrants are leaving Cobb and Gwinnett, which both suffered considerable economic losses. Immigrant businesses owners report a steady decline in customers since the financial crisis began. Occupancies at rental properties in immigrant neighborhoods are also on the rise, further suggesting a trend. A local organization that helps immigrants reported that it has seen a rise in the number of people seeking advice about moving out of the area in the last six months.

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