Report: 184,000 immigrants living illegally in metro Atlanta

Immigrants living illegally in metro Atlanta

Gwinnett County: 71,000

DeKalb County: 42,000

Fulton County: 37,000

Cobb County: 34,000

Hall County: 16,000

Immigrants eligible for relief under the Obama administration’s executive actions

Gwinnett County: 30,000

Fulton County: 14,000

Cobb County: 13,000

DeKalb County: 11,000

Hall County: 7,000

Top 10 states where immigrants live illegally

California: 3.166 million

Texas: 1.464 million

New York: 873,000

Illinois: 560,000

Florida: 632,000

New Jersey: 528,000

Georgia: 398,000

North Carolina: 354,000

Arizona: 274,000

Washington: 214,000

Source: Migration Policy Institute

An estimated 184,000 immigrants are living illegally in metro Atlanta and 68,000 of them are eligible for work permits and temporary relief from deportation under the Obama administration’s executive actions on immigration, an expansive new report shows.

Based on census data covering the years 2008 to 2012, the Migration Policy Institute report provides a clearer picture of what’s at stake for the Atlanta region — and the nation — amid the contentious debate in Washington over immigration.

In Georgia, Gwinnett County is home to the largest number of immigrants without legal status at 71,000, followed by DeKalb County, 42,000; Fulton County, 37,000; and Cobb County, 34,000. The report also includes Hall County, with 16,000.

Statewide, 170,000 immigrants are eligible for three-year work permits and stays of deportation under the president’s plan, placing Georgia seventh among states based on this statistic. That hews closely to Georgia’s eighth-place ranking among states for the total size of its population.

The institute — a Washington-based think tank that evaluates migration policies — released the report Thursday, describing it as the first-ever document to offer such numbers by county. In all, the institute published statistics for the 94 counties nationwide that are home to about two-thirds of the estimated 11.4 million immigrants living illegally in the U.S.

The report was released a day after the Republican-led House approved legislation to gut Obama’s executive actions on immigration. Congressional Republicans say the president’s plan is unconstitutional, while the White House says it is acting within its legal authority.

Legislation that would have overhauled the nation’s immigration policy stalled in the House in 2013. Citing inaction in Congress, President Barack Obama announced in November that he was acting unilaterally to shield millions of immigrants from deportation. The centerpiece of his plan involves suspending the threat of deportation for immigrants who don’t have legal status but do have children who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. His administration is expanding a similar relief program — called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA — for immigrants who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children.

Immigration watchdogs cite the taxpayer costs of educating the children of those living illegally in the U.S. They also warn about such immigrants displacing U.S. workers.

“The high numbers of illegal adults in Georgia remind us that they are ‘wage thieves,’ by and large stealing jobs from citizens seeking work and especially from the poorest of the unemployed or underemployed,” Phil Kent, a member of the Georgia Immigration Enforcement Review Board, said in an email about the new estimates released Thursday.

Maria Carrillo Garcia, a Mexican native now living in Roswell, pointed out that she and many other immigrants without legal status are paying taxes and contributing to the state’s economy. She was granted relief under DACA before she graduated from Roswell High School in 2013, making her eligible for a federal work permit. She later got a job at a local clothing store, which is withholding state and federal taxes from her paycheck.

“They can’t just kick all those people out, all those people who work. It would crush the economy,” said Garcia, who is attending Georgia Perimeter College with dreams of becoming a teacher. She added that federal lawmakers “should think about how the U.S. is going to thrive if they have more businessmen — more jobs that undocumented people will create.”

The report also provides an extraordinary amount of details about the immigrants in each state, including their native countries, gender and ages. Of those living in Georgia, 59 percent are from Mexico. There are also large numbers in the state from Guatemala, India, South Korea and Honduras. Fifty-seven percent are males. And the largest share — 34 percent — are 25 to 34 years old.

Counties with the most Mexican immigrants without legal status — particularly those in California and Texas — are among those with the highest shares of those eligible for protection under Obama’s plan, said Randy Capps, the director of research for the Migration Policy Institute’s U.S. programs.

“Mexican immigrants,” Capps said in a prepared statement, “are the unauthorized group most likely to be well established in the United States and to have formed mixed-status families with unauthorized parents and U.S.-citizen or legal permanent resident children — characteristics that qualify them for” protection.

Immediately after Obama announced his sweeping plan in November nonprofit aid groups in Atlanta and across the nation began preparing immigrants to apply for deferrals from deportation. They are advising immigrants to gather documents proving their identity, their relationships with U.S.-born children and legal permanent residents, and proof they have continually lived in the U.S. for at least five years.

Jeanne Atkinson, the executive director of the Maryland-based Catholic Legal Immigration Network — a national network of community-based immigration programs — said the new estimates will help aid groups make assumptions about how many people will seek their help.

“Almost universally, capacity will be stretched,” Atkinson told reporters Thursday in a conference call about the new report. “An important point to remember is that most of these agencies already have full caseloads, so they are trying to figure out how to add on.”