March 18, 2011 | 11 NBC | Original Article

Census: Hispanic population explosion in Georgia, especially in Gwinnett County

ATLANTA, Ga. -- Georgia's Hispanic population doubled in the past ten years to more than 850,000 people, according to the census data released Thursday.

"96 percent growth is phenomenal," said Jerry Gonzalez, the Executive Director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.

The new census figures list Latinos and Hispanics as comprising 8.8 percent of Georgia's population, compared with just over five percent in 2000.

And with the population explosion, Gonzalez said, comes increasing political clout. Especially in areas of the state with the highest numbers of Hispanics, now -- such as in Gwinnett County.

The new census data show that the Hispanic population in Gwinnett County more than doubled, in round numbers from 64,000 in 2000, to 162,000 in 2010.

That means that about 20 percent of Gwinnett County residents, two of every ten, are Hispanic.

(By comparison, African Americans in Gwinnett County also more than doubled, and are now 24 percent of the county's population). 

And more and more Gwinnett County Hispanics are becoming politically active voters.

Gonzalez said that in 2003, there were just 800 Hispanics who were registered to vote in Gwinnett County.

"And in 2009 we did an analysis, and we found 26,000," and, he pointed out, to register to vote, they have to "be a U.S. citizen." 

Georgia will be getting an additional member of Congress as a result of the state's overall 18 percent population growth.  Gonzalez is not ready to speculate on the possibility that the new member of Congress might be Hispanic, from a new district drawn around some of the Hispanic populations of Metro Atlanta, including Gwinnett County.

"That's difficult to say, without the [complete, statistical] breakdowns, yet," he said. "Gwinnett County is a big, populous county. I think that potentially there could be a Congressional district drawn in [and around] Gwinnett County, and I think that, given Civil Rights protections and the Voting Rights Act, that's something to consider."

During the 2010 census count, Gonzalez was part of a concerted push to count every Hispanic in Georgia, those here legally and illegally, yet he is sure the final count is an under-count.

There is no breakdown in the census of how many of the 850,000-plus Hispanics in Georgia who were counted are here illegally.

Thursday night in downtown Atlanta, dozens of young Hispanic professionals from across Metro Atlanta were socializing after work at a popular bar on Luckie St. near the Georgia Aquarium.

One of them, Zayra Fosse, organizes the monthly get-togethers under the umbrella organization she helps run in her spare time, called Hispanic Professional Socials.

"Here we have people from all the Fortune 500 companies" in Metro Atlanta, she said, who are a big part of Georgia's Hispanic population explosion.

They are not the stereotype of the silent, cowering illegal immigrant.

"I mean, we're not all illegal, we're not all poor, and we're not draining the economy," she said. "We are professionals, we hold jobs, pay taxes, and we're living the American dream, and that's what it's about."

Other Georgia counties with large Hispanic populations, according to the new census data, are Cobb (84,000), Fulton (73,000), DeKalb (68,000) and Hall (47,000).

"Latinos are an integral part of Georgia's fabric, and we are part of the Georgia family," Gonzalez said.