PERCENTAGE OF HISPANIC STUDENTS
• Dalton City: 68 percent
• Whitfield County: 38 percent
• Calhoun City: 30 percent
• Murray County: 20 percent
• Gordon County: 15 percent
• Catoosa County: 3 percent
• Walker County: 2 percent
• Dade County: 1 percent
Source: Georgia Department of Education
Parts of law now in effect:
• People who use counterfeit or false information to get a job in Georgia can be charged with aggravated identity fraud and face up to 15 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.
• A seven-member Immigration Enforcement Review Board is established to investigate complaints about implementation of HB 87 and sanction agencies or employees failing to implement the law properly.
• Every public employer shall register and participate in the federal work authorization program to verify employment eligibility of all newly hired employees.
Parts blocked by a federal injunction:
• People who, while committing another criminal offense, knowingly and intentionally transport or move an illegal immigrant can be charged with a misdemeanor and face up to 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine for the first offense.
• Law enforcement officials can ask to verify a person’s immigration status and use any reasonable means to determine that status if that person is believed to have broken a law.
Although a federal judge temporarily has blocked some of the more controversial components of Georgia’s tough new immigration law, some anxious Hispanic families already have left North Georgia, leaving school officials wondering about the impact on fall enrollment.
There is no way to know how many students in North Georgia school systems are in the country illegally, but school officials suspect that some of their Hispanic students and families will leave the state to avoid the possibility of deportation.
“In fact, some teachers feel that the enrollment is going to be down,” said America Gruner, president of the Dalton-based Coalition of Latino Leaders.
“A lot of people got afraid and they didn’t wait, so as soon as the school year finished, they left already or they’re leaving. They’re selling their furniture at the flea market and preparing to leave.”
School districts receive state and federal funding for each enrolled student, so decreased enrollment could mean lower overall funding. Georgia spends about $8,000 on each student.
Officials in Whitfield County, where nearly 40 percent of the student body is Hispanic, already have received questions about next year’s enrollment.
Schools spokesman Eric Beavers said there is no way to know whether the immigration law will affect enrollment before school starts in August.
“Until we see people in the buildings, we won’t really see what effect the law may have had,” he said. “For our planning purposes, for staffing, based on history, the last three years have been pretty flat, so we were planning for about the same number of students.”
Steve Williams, chairman of the Dalton Board of Education, said he has heard that commerce at Hispanic-owned businesses has gone down 40 percent to 60 percent.
“Fewer students means fewer dollars sent to us by the state ... and that could impact employment within the school district itself,” he said. “But it also could involve fewer local property tax dollars collected.”
In Dalton, the potential Hispanic exodus could affect the district’s plans for addressing crowding at Dalton Middle School, Williams said. Right now, district officials are considering options such as leaving all sixth-graders at elementary schools, or creating a districtwide sixth-grade academy. If the system has a large decrease in Hispanic enrollment, those plans might be abandoned, Williams said.
“We also may not have to do much construction in the foreseeable future,” he said.
Dalton Mayor David Pennington, who said the immigration law will put unnecessary new burdens on small-business owners to verify electronically their employees’ immigration status, said he doesn’t believe the town will have the dramatic decrease in population that some people fear.
Since the economic downturn began several years ago, the school system has expected to lose enrollment every year, but it actually has grown.
“I think [the immigration law] has created some unwarranted hysteria,” Pennington said.
Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...