published Friday, August 26th, 2011

Influx of immigrants into Chattanooga

by Andy Johns
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Census Origins
Census Origins

Chinese immigrant Michael Zhou came to Chattanooga for a job at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee in 1998, and now can’t imagine living anywhere else.

“I like the small-town setting, it’s not that crowded, it’s also relatively safe,” said Zhou, who now works at Unum.

New U.S. census figures released Thursday indicate he’s not alone.

Minority groups in Chattanooga — from Chinese to Argentinians to Puerto Ricans — grew at much faster rates than the overall population from 2000 to 2010. The foreign-born make up a small yet increasing part of the region.

Census paperwork allows immigrants in the U.S. to check the names of 18 Asian nationalities and 19 Spanish-speaking countries. An eight-county area including Hamilton, Bradley, Catoosa, Dade, Marion, Rhea, Walker and Whitfield had respondents from all 27 countries except Bhutan, a small, mountainous state between India and China.

The number of Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans all increased by more than 300 percent over the decade in the eight-county Chattanooga area. Among Asian groups, Filipinos and Chinese showed the most growth, increasing by 80 and 67 percent respectively. The Chinese population overtook Koreans to become the second-biggest Asian group in the region behind Indians.

Other Asian populations, such as Vietnamese, Koreans and Japanese, grew more slowly than Chinese, at about 30 percent.

Overall, the Indian subset grew by 67 percent and remained the largest local group with 9,500 respondents.

Doug Bachtel, a demographics expert with the University of Georgia, said minority growth in the Southeast has to do primarily with higher-than-average birth rates among minorities and an influx of immigrants. People from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador come to the tri-state area for the same reasons as other immigrants, he said.

“Similar to the Mexican folks, they’ll be here for the job opportunities,” he said.

Mexicans make up 70 percent of Latino residents in the area, but that number is down from 73 percent in 2000. The Mexican population grew by 96 percent during the last decade to nearly 40,000, but that was a few ticks below the 104 percent growth in the overall Hispanic population.

In addition to jobs, some Hispanic immigrants are attracted to the region by family and friends.

“They want to be around family and support each other,” said Jessica Cliche, a Guatemala native who moved to the United States 11 years ago. Cliche is with La Paz, a Chattanooga nonprofit that works with the Hispanic community.

She said most Guatemalans she works with are coming here from other states, including Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.

The growing Chinese population is less easily explained, Bachtel said. He guessed many of the Chinese were attending area universities, but said the growth is tougher to pinpoint.

“There must be something that is bringing that Chinese population to Chattanooga,” he said.

Zhou said he can see the growth by looking at local shopping centers. The number of stores and restaurants that cater to different ethnic communities is a clear indication that Asian groups, including Chinese, are becoming a larger presence in the area, he said.

“We have much more choices now,” he said.

Though the census numbers show big percentage increases across the board, groups that work with the immigrant communities, said the numbers seem a lot lower than the actual populations.

According to the census, there were about 3,000 Guatemalans — the fastest-growing Hispanic group — in Hamilton County and fewer than 200 in Bradley County.

“When you get the census numbers, you multiply that by three or five,” said Frances Irizarry, director of ethnic ministries at the Bradley Baptist Association. “I know several people who got the census forms and threw them away. They didn’t know what it was about.”

Irizarry noted that immigrant populations “also have high mobility.”

“People move around so much, half of my contact list is unusable,” added Irizarry, a board member and volunteer of the Mosaic/Ocoee Regional Multicultural Services, a nonprofit in Cleveland, Tenn., that promotes cultural diversity.

Another challenge in getting immigrant communities to participate in the census is the high illiteracy rate, said both Irizarry and Cliche.

“My theory is that some of them don’t know how to read or write and I don’t think they understand why they have to fill out the census [form],” said Cliche.

In past questionnaires, the Census Bureau has asked for ethnic origin, including Europe and Africa. But a bureau spokeswoman said Wednesday that question was dropped when the survey went to the short 10-question form in 2010.

The national ethnicity question in 2010 was only asked of Asian or Hispanic respondents because the bureau considers a nationality such as Laotian or Colombian a race, the spokeswoman said.

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about Andy Johns...

Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...

about Perla Trevizo...

Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...

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Wilder said...

This is just wonderful news. I know that Chattanoogans, like Daltonians, are dying to share all they have accumulated with these wonderful and deserving people.

August 26, 2011 at 7:38 a.m.
sage1 said...

Well HEY!!! I'm sure they are all here legally......So as a true Red - White and Blue blooded Democrat, I say let's get 'em all signed up on Welfare, Government Housing and Social Security! I'd hate to see all these new American citizens have to get a job an pay into all of these wonderful assistance programs we taxpayers provide for them. I'll even see about getting a second job so they won't have to bother.

August 26, 2011 at 8:04 a.m.
chatttn said...

Hate to admit it, only because I'm not a bigot - but I agree with all the above. It's all fine and good if you are here legally and pay your dues like the rest of us - more power to you. But it truly sucks when you've worked all your life only to worry about money and insurance, then an illegal comes in and gets it all for free. Something SERIOUSLY wrong here!!

August 26, 2011 at 9:34 a.m.
dao1980 said...

Perla disagrees.. She want's you to cry for Argentina.. or maybe Madonna, and then sacrifice yourself and all you have worked for in an attempt to save the entire world from itself.

August 26, 2011 at 9:51 a.m.
rolando said...

Interesting...the words "illegal" or "undocumented" only appear in the "Comments" section...

Those omissions render the entire article without worth or meaning...unless one is totally pro-illegal alien and think they should immediately and fully be given everything legal residents have earned -- and paid into -- by "blood, sweat, and tears" or whatever.

The article is, like the illegal aliens here, simply trash; they are a burden on our society.

August 26, 2011 at 10:14 a.m.
zhoumt868 said...

I can’t speak for other groups. Most of the Chinese people (if not all) I know moved here are legal immigrants. I moved here 11 years ago and I don't know a single illegal Chinese immigrant here. I do know lot of doctors and highly skilled Chinese people that moved to Chattanooga for the last 11 years, many of them have Masters or Phds bring much needed talents in this region. Some of them have their own business or brought investments, which brings jobs to local people too. So far know all of them are paying taxes just like you and me.

August 26, 2011 at 10:23 a.m.
CharlesMartel said...

The vast majority of the commentators are anti-immigrant because most immigrants are Hispanic, and most of them are of the Roman Catholic Faith. The True Faith offends their heretical Protestantism.

August 26, 2011 at 10:26 a.m.
andyjohns said...


The Census Bureau makes no distinction between documented and undocumented or legal/illegal. That information was not included in the data, which is why it was not included in our article.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.


August 26, 2011 at 10:27 a.m.

I welcome legal immigrants with open arms and friendship. I will gladly assist the federal govt in deporting all illegals. Get out criminals. We don't want you here. My father was a legal immigrant. He did it the right way. I am proud of him for it.

August 26, 2011 at 11:10 a.m.
Veritas said...

CharlesMartel you are very incorrect in your judgement of those of us who are opposed to illegal immigration, if you have ever read any of my posts you would realize that I am not a Prot, as a matter of fact I consider them to be heretics. With that said I am opposed to ILLEGAL immigration because it is ILLEGAL. This is supposed to be a Nation of Laws, without laws we have anarchy, you've heard of it , murder, rape, robbery, the general, everyday plundering and pillaging. There was a time when the R C Church believed in law and order but that was before the Jesuits inserted their ideas of Liberation Theology into the church at large, and then came the Second Vatican Council, and the church went to Hell in a handbasket. So I suggest you go to Mass where the priest is vested in a polyester horse blanket, celebrating the post-Vatican II shag carpet liturgy, in Our Lady of Pizza Hut church. Now let's all hold hands and sing Kumbaya.

August 26, 2011 at 11:34 a.m.
thought said...

I wish some of you would take the time to get informed before expessing your opinion. First, do not equate 'immigrant' with 'illegal'. Even government figures show that 80-90 percent of immigrants are LEGAL. Second, to qualify for government assistance, including food stamps and such, you have to be a CITIZEN of the USA. Immigrants do not qualify, even the legal ones. Most immigrants do not qualify for citizenship, and those who do will not get it just for asking. There is a long process and it can take years. So, if the welfare system is about to go bust, don't blame it on the newcomers.

August 26, 2011 at 11:47 a.m.
Wilder said...

FlyingPurple said....

"I will gladly assist the federal govt in deporting all illegals."

It's election time - Obama has to have the Hispanics' votes to win. This is just the beginning. He will give them the keys to your house and car if he has to. On the other side of the isle, the corporate sector is addicted to cheap, taxpayer subsidized, labor. It is a lose, lose proposition for most Americans.

"Federal authorities on Tuesday night began freeing illegal immigrants facing deportation from Georgia, releasing two teenagers from custody by using controversial new guidelines the Obama administration announced last week." Atlanta Journal 8/25/11

August 26, 2011 at 11:58 a.m.
Wilder said...

thought said...

"I wish some of you would take the time to get informed before expessing your opinion."

I live in Dalton. As a result, I have the equivalent of a PhD in illegal aliens. You don't have a clue about what you are talking about.

August 26, 2011 at 12:10 p.m.
kdawg said...

Anyone who's ancestors are not Native American shame on you for having the audacity to judge anyone who risks all to come to America, just as your family did.

August 26, 2011 at 12:47 p.m.
Humphrey said...

haters gonna hate

August 26, 2011 at 1:07 p.m.
CharlesMartel said...

Veritas, like the rest of Americans, you are a de facto Protestant, even if you do attend the "Old Mass", etc. Your culture is American, i.e., Protestant.

From Einhard's Life of Charlemagne:

He liked foreigners, and was at great pains to take them under his protection. There were often so many of them, both in the palace and the kingdom, that they might reasonably have been considered a nuisance; but he, with his broad humanity, was very little disturbed by such annoyances, because he felt himself compensated for these great inconveniences by the praises of his generosity and the reward of high renown.

August 26, 2011 at 1:22 p.m.
sage1 said...

Just go ahead and vote Obama back in. Then there will be no illegal alliens in the USA. He'll just sign an Executive Order that makes one a legal citizen as soon as your foot touches American soil.

August 26, 2011 at 1:46 p.m.
sage1 said...

By the way "Thought".....If you believe those government figures, you'd buy ocean front property in Kansas. As far as your second statement about illegals not qualifying for assistant. Where have you been? That's all Pelosi talked about for 2 years was making illegals eligable for those very programs.

August 26, 2011 at 1:53 p.m.
zhoumt868 said...

Wilder said... "I live in Dalton. As a result, I have the equivalent of a PhD in illegal aliens. You don't have a clue about what you are talking about."

If you know a single illegal immigrant who is taking warfare, you should report it to the police. That is fraud and no immigrant is qualified for government assistant, not even the unemployment payment. All immigrant workers pay into their UI insurance via company payroll and they don’t qualify for the unemployment payment if they lose their jobs. You have to be a citizen of USA in order to get that.

Unless you are getting a job pays cash, it is hard to be illegal and get a job because there is a very good system that verifies your SSN with the Feds, and most (if not all) companies are required to do so these days.

True, if you are an illegal and you have kids who were born here, these kids are USA CITIZENS and they are qualified for government assistant if the parents do not have enough income to support them. Until we change the law on that, these kids ARE USA citizens and they should be treated as such, just like your kids or mine. Do you really want to take away the protection for all kids born in USA?

August 26, 2011 at 2:13 p.m.
Wilder said...

@kdawg My family came here legally, and has fought in every war from the Revolutionary War through Vietnam to preserve this country. The nonsense about everyone coming here illegally is getting old. 100 years ago you couldn't plug into the social welfare system - it didn't exist - you worked or starved. People weren't monetarily rewarded for producing babies. This is a whole different ballgame. The corporate sector is fully aware that our welfare system will both attract and support their pseudo slaves. They also know that they are destroying the middle class in this country - and they will do it as long as you let them.

August 26, 2011 at 2:19 p.m.
Wilder said...

@ zhoumt868

I hate to keep saying this, but, you don't know what you are talking about. I know for a fact that the major carpet mills as well as the peripheral sweat shops, in Dalton, are filled with illegal aliens. Don't you read Perla's articles about them? Why do you think they park their cars and take cabs to work? The people posting here are clueless.

August 26, 2011 at 2:25 p.m.
Momus said...

"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free; The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, Tempest-tossed to me I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"


August 26, 2011 at 4:26 p.m.

The 14th amendment should be clarified to correct the problem of anchor babies. Rewarding illegal behavior was never it's aim. It should never have been interpreted the way it is being now.

August 26, 2011 at 5:56 p.m.
Momus said...

I enjoy reading the thoughts of TRUE southern Christians.

August 26, 2011 at 7:24 p.m.
Wilder said...

@ Momus

"In Georgia's Whitfield County, home of Dalton, the "Carpet Capital of the World," more than 59% of infants were minorities in 2010 compared with 38.4% in 2000." USA Today 8/25/11

A handful of sociopaths, not Southern Christians, or any kind of Christians, are responsible for the Mexican colonization of Dalton.

Trust me, they don't have a humanitarian bone in their bodies - they couldn't care less about either the people whose hometown they sacrificed or their imported cheap labor. They only care about the all mighty dollar. If you want to feel sorry for someone, you should feel sorry for Dalton's native population. Save your contempt for the lowlifes who profit from the dismantling of our country.

"Nearly 7,000 deportation cases in Georgia to be reviewed for possible dismissal..." Atlanta Journal 8/26

August 26, 2011 at 8:19 p.m.
CharlesMartel said...

If you want to feel sorry for someone, you should feel sorry for Dalton's native population.

Uh, you have to go to Oklahoma to find them.

August 26, 2011 at 9:36 p.m.
Momus said...

@ Wilder- Don't hate the players, hate the game. (Figure it out)

August 27, 2011 at 6:59 a.m.
Villanow said...

What disheartening comments to read. And we call ourselves Christians.

September 7, 2011 at 10:09 a.m.
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