Key Survey Results
New Orleans is home to a new immigrant community. The majority of the city's Latino immigrants came after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005, lured by the prospect of well-paying jobs rebuilding the city.
This population has been badly hurt by the economic downturn and the utter failure of the federal government to respond to labor exploitation in the wake of Katrina. The greatest concern Latinos expressed to the Southern Poverty Law Center was related to employment. One local advocate called New Orleans "the wild, wild West."
* 80 percent of Latinos interviewed in New Orleans reported that they had not been paid for some work they performed.
* Almost half of those surveyed (47 percent) had been injured on the job, and a large majority of those (70 percent) said they were not treated appropriately (i.e., they received no medical treatment, lost wages and/or were fired) after the injury.
* New Orleans was the location where Latinos were least likely to have heard of the Department of Labor or know how to contact it. Only 37 percent said they had heard of the department, and only 14 percent said they knew how to contact it.
* Most had also received no health and safety training at all, and few (only 23 percent) had even heard of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Latinos across south Georgia described an immigrant community with an extreme distrust of police.
Several factors apparently fuel this distrust. There were reports by Latinos of unfair treatment and deep concerns about their inability to obtain driver's licenses and license plates — a significant concern given the lack of public transportation in the largely rural area. Immigrant advocates also reported severe penalties for driving without a license, including fines of up to $1,500 and even jail time.
But it was a series of raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in September 2006 that left an indelible mark on the community. Latino immigrants with and without documentation believe the fabric of their community was torn apart as ICE agents searched door to door in their neighborhoods.
Interviews and surveys were conducted with Latinos across several counties in south Georgia. These locations included Moultrie, Macon, Augusta, Grovetown, Lyons, Vidalia, Oak Park, Statesboro, Swainsboro, Cobbtown and Twin City.
* Georgia was the location where Latinos expressed the least confidence in the police. Only 27 percent of people interviewed reported that they had trust in the police.
* 42 percent of the people who have had interactions with the police believe they were treated unfairly.
* The vast majority (88 percent) believe that ICE targets Latinos and treats them differently from people of other races or ethnicities, including other immigrants.
North Alabama provided an example of how local laws erode trust in the police among Latinos.
Numerous municipalities in the region have enacted ordinances allowing law enforcement to impound vehicles when a driver cannot provide documentation proving their legal status. These ordinances greatly affect the immigrant community, especially those who are undocumented, and may lead to racial profiling.
Latino business owners interviewed by SPLC researchers cited incidents where they have been asked for help by someone whose vehicle was taken by police. A Huntsville businessman said he stopped helping people recover their vehicles because he worried about upsetting authorities by recovering so many vehicles.
Others described how these policies hurt their businesses by forcing people to stay home out of fear. Many respondents confirmed this, reporting that they felt safer staying at home as much as possible.
SPLC researchers conducted interviews and surveys in the cities of Hoover, Birmingham, Huntsville, Florence, Russellville and Albertville.
* Only 41 percent of those surveyed indicated that they have confidence in the police.
* Forty-one percent also said they personally knew someone treated unjustly by the police. Of these incidents, the majority (55 percent) involved traffic stops.
* A majority of people surveyed (55 percent) reported that there are routine traffic stops or roadblocks where they live.
* A majority of people surveyed (53 percent) also reported that the roadblocks target Latinos and do not affect people of other ethnicities equally.
Nashville is a case study in the shifting sentiment that immigrant communities have experienced in Southern cities.
In the past 15 to 20 years, the immigrant population in Nashville has been among the fast-growing in the United States. Between 2000 and 2006, Tennessee ranked 5th in the nation for the largest percentage growth in the foreign-born population (48.7 percent).1
Nashville initially held itself out as a city that welcomed immigrants. Tennessee even became one of the first states to offer driver's licenses to people without Social Security numbers. However, the climate toward immigrants shifted with the backlash against immigrants associated with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
By April 2007, the Davidson County Sheriff's Office had signed a 287(g) agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, allowing the department to assist ICE in enforcing federal immigration law. Specifically, it means the department, which runs the jails, checks the immigration status of individuals arrested in Davidson County.
Despite this climate, Nashville voters in January 2009 soundly defeated an English-only measure that would have required all Metro Nashville government business to be conducted in English. The defeat prevented Nashville from becoming the largest city in the country with such a rule, offering the possibility that the sentiment toward immigrants may be shifting again in Nashville.2
Nonetheless, SPLC surveys and interviews with Latinos and advocates in Nashville revealed the extreme fear cultivated throughout the area long before this vote:
* 67 percent of the respondents said they personally knew someone who had been treated unjustly by the police, the highest rate of any of the communities surveyed.
* 73 percent reported that Nashville's 287(g) agreement with ICE made them more apprehensive about cooperating with the police.
* Complaints about working conditions in Nashville were common. Thirty-seven percent reported that they had personally been cheated out of wages.
* More than 70 percent thought sexual harassment was a serious problem in employment — the highest rate reported in the survey.
* 60 percent reported experiencing racism in securing housing in Nashville.
Charlotte is another example of the shifting attitudes toward immigrants in the South.
The growth of Charlotte's immigrant population paralleled the city's transformation into a major financial center. Immigrant advocates were quick to note that these two events are related.
When Charlotte was known as a welcoming city for immigrants, it was at a time when it needed immigrant hands to build its skyline. More than one advocate noted how Latino immigrants "built this city" and that "undocumented hands" were responsible for many of the homes, skyscrapers and marble floors in the city.
However, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, changed public sentiment as illegal immigration became a security issue. The Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office also implemented a 287(g) program, an agreement that allowed the department to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
This program has been credited with fueling anti-immigrant sentiment. Talk radio in the city has been cited as a force in changing the perception of Latino immigrants from a community that helped build a better city to one that threatens the city itself.
The SPLC survey and interviews found a Latino population that reported discrimination on the job and elsewhere. It also revealed a population fearful of law enforcement.
* More than half (52 percent) of the survey respondents said there is racism when looking for a house in this area.
* 66 percent said their willingness to speak to police has been affected by the county sheriff's 287(g) agreement with ICE.
* 28 percent said they have performed work for which they were not paid.
* 73 percent of those surveyed said they believe Latinos receive different treatment on the job.
* Nearly half of those surveyed (48 percent) said women were treated differently than men on the job.
1. Fact Sheet on the Foreign Born, Demographic and Social Characteristics, Tennessee, Migration Policy Institute.
2. Chris Echegaray, "Nashville's English-Only Measure Defeated," The Tennessean, Jan. 23, 2009.