The growth of the Hispanic population in metro Atlanta nearly doubled since the 2000 census, outpacing the huge Hispanic population surge statewide, despite the slump in the housing industry that employed many Hispanics.
In a core nine-county metro area, the Hispanic population grew from 247,477 in the 2000 census, to 477,891, a jump of over 93 percent.
The greatest boom in the 9-county area was seen in Henry County, where the population swelled a whopping 338 percent, from 2,693 up to 11,813. Gwinnett had the greatest increase in number of Hispanics, growing from 64,136, to 162,035, an increase of 97,899.
State-wide, Hispanics accounted for 853,689, or 8.8 percent of all Georgians.
Among the metro cities that showed the greatest increases in the Hispanic population were Roswell (plus 5,507), Sandy Springs (4,852), Lawrenceville (3,683), Canton (3,292), Atlanta (3,084), Alpharetta (2,576), Lithia Springs (2,144), Forest Park (2,022), Stockbridge (2017) and Lilburn (1,647).
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The numbers surprised some leaders in the Hispanic community who believe, based in part on anecdotal information, that the local Hispanic population had declined as jobs went away with the housing bust.
They also said the lack of a hard count and only an estimate (approximately 820,000 statewide) from the U.S. Census Bureau during the peak of the housing boom could mean thousands of Hispanics, many of them illegal immigrants, could have come and gone from the state and metro area between 2000 and 2010.
Census-takers did not ask respondents whether they were in the country illegally.
“I find it hard to believe that that number is up as much as it is,” said Teodoro Maus, president of Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights. “From what we understood, from what people were telling us, they have been leaving, not coming.
"This surprises me and I still do not believe they have the numbers right. Many Hispanics will not tell the census workers how many live in a home, because they are afraid they will be kicked out.”
Hispanic and minority group organizers over the last two years have worked hard for a thorough count of minorities. Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, on Thursday praised the campaign as a success and announced the group’s next goal – gaining a seat in congress.
“GALEO looks forward to working with the Georgia Legislature during the upcoming redistricting process to ensure Latino interests will be able to influence future elections at the congressional, state legislative and local levels of government,” he said in a statement.
Another grass roots organizer for the full count, Helen Butler, executive director for the Coalition for the Peoples' Agenda, wasn’t quite so eager to praise.
“I still have to go over the numbers,” she said. “And I’m still concerned about legislation that is being considered right now targeting Hispanics in the state.”
An immigration bill, considered in the Georgia Legislature this session that would ban noncitizens from colleges, failed. But another bill that would require law enforcement to check immigration status of suspected illegal immigrants and require E-verify for employers is still in place in the final weeks of the session.
Jesus Brito, the Mexican-born owner of Brito supermarkets, said that he believed the population boom is mostly the result of the birth rate in the Hispanic community. From his observation, based on customer traffic, many Hispanics came and went in the last decade.
“I have seen a reduction in the Hispanic population in the last three years,” he said. “That reduction starts in Cobb and then in Gwinnett. That was one of the most affected [counties]. [I know this] for businesses that have been closed, for clients, by walking in the streets. You notice that the people are not there.”
Former state senator and Hispanic Sam Zamarripa said Thursday the near doubling of the state’s Hispanic population, despite all the politics around the issue of immigration, bodes well for Georgia economy.
“That’s a lot of buying power for groceries, cars and goods that drive commerce,” he said. “It’s a lot of home owners, apartment rents and people who pay property taxes and help our cities. We are just getting a glimpse at the remarkable contribution this community is making to our state.”
Mundo Hispanico reporter Johanes Rosello contributed to this article.