Are Local Crackdowns Forcing Immigrants Out? States and towns across the country are passing measures aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration, and there is anecdotal evidence that undocumented immigrants are moving out of those areas: reports of declining school enrollments, panic home sales and sharply falling business at shops catering to Hispanics.
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Are Local Crackdowns Forcing Immigrants Out?

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Are Local Crackdowns Forcing Immigrants Out?

Are Local Crackdowns Forcing Immigrants Out?

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

Across the country, local and state efforts to crack down on illegal immigrants have had mixed success. But they are having this impact - a number of undocumented immigrants are moving out of these areas. There are no hard numbers, but anecdotal evidence is mounting.

As NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports.

JENNIFER LUDDEN: When Prince William County, Virginia passed its immigration crackdown in July, the impact was almost immediate. Business at this Hispanic grocery store dropped sharply, as it did at restaurants and other shops. Many undocumented immigrants say they feel a sense of siege and are lying low.

But standing in then parking lot with her grocery bags, Natividad Albaran(ph) says aren't waiting around to see how things shake out.

NATIVIDAD ALBARAN: (Spanish spoken).

LUDDEN: Many are so frightened by what's going on here, she says. My husband and I know people who've moved to other states. Albaran works at a local high school.

ALBARAN: (Spanish spoken)

LUDDEN: There are fewer students, she says. We called over the summer break to tell them not to be afraid to come register, but still, they left.

And Prince William's resolution hasn't even taken effect. The story is the same in other towns that has passed laws targeting illegal immigrants, like Hazleton, Pennsylvania and Riverside, New Jersey, and in states like Colorado, Arizona and Georgia. There, restrictions on employment, benefits and driver's licenses for the undocumented took effect this summer.

ALYNNA ARGUELLO: Well, it's been devastating for us.

LUDDEN: Alynna Arguello has seen her Atlanta real estate business plummet. She says, at first, Latinos were moving to other states, especially North Carolina, where they felt the atmosphere was better. Now, Arguello says her illegal immigrant clients seem to have decided there's no secure place in the U.S.

ARGUELLO: If I pick 10, seven of them are selling because they're moving out of the country. Many of them back to Mexico, Guatemala, whatever the country may be.

LUDDEN: Recently, Arguello got a panicked call from a man so anxious to leave he didn't want to bother selling his house. Arguello says the man is agonizing because his three children are all U.S. citizens, and the teenage son is doing so well in school. But the father worries one day immigration agents will come knocking on his door. And Arguello can't blame him.

ARGUELLO: How do you sit there and say, well, just sit tight, when they know the reality. And the reality is that they cannot even drive legally. And if they get stopped and they get thrown in jail, most likely they'd get deported. And they don't want to be in that horrible situation. So they are planning ahead, according to them.

KING: We're proving something that's very obvious, very simple and very elementary. Enforcement works.

LUDDEN: D.A. King is a grassroots activist who pushed hard for Georgia's law. He believes most illegal immigrants are staying put. But the trend's enough to have prompted a downturn in businesses that cater to Hispanics. And King says that's just fine.

KING: What we've decided is that if we have an economy that is based upon a violation of existing federal law, then we need to change the way we're doing business.

LUDDEN: In Oklahoma, a statewide immigration crackdown is to take effect November 1st. The Governor's Latino Advisory Council has decried an eroding tax base as thousands leave the state. But representative Randy Terrill, the main sponsor of Oklahoma's law, says any lost will pale beside the hundreds of millions he says illegal immigrants costs the state each year. He thinks Oklahoma will serve as a model.

RANDY TERRILL: As Oklahoma and other states begin to crackdown on the illegal alien problem, those illegal aliens shift to other friendlier state, they're going to start to see the same sorts of problems and expenses that we did, and it's probably going to precipitate action there.

LUDDEN: Tulsa journalist Guillermo Rojas also owns a restaurant and he's seen two employees leave. One moved in North Carolina, the other told Rojas he was going to New York because of Governor Elliot Spitzer's recent decision to allow driver's licenses for illegal immigrants. Rojas is perfectly legal and has turned down better job offers elsewhere because he has loved Oklahoma so much, until now.

GUILLERMO ROJAS: I lived in Tulsa for over 18 years. But right now, I don't think that I like anymore of this state. It's racist.

LUDDEN: He is not ready to move, though. Rojas says it's more important to stay and fight the law. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.

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