The new immigration legislation passed in Alabama may affect the trend of an ever-increasing Hispanic population on Sand Mountain, according to area elected officials.
Marshall and DeKalb are behind only Franklin as the counties with the highest percentage of Hispanics, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.
The Hispanic population in Alabama more than doubled since 2000 to about 186,000 in 2010, or 3.9 percent of the state's total population of nearly 4.8 million.
In 2000, the Census reported 75,830 Hispanics, or 1.7 percent of the state's population.
DeKalb County's population is 13.6 percent Hispanic, and Marshall County is 12 percent Hispanic. The other county in The Reporter's coverage area, Etowah, is 3.3 percent Hispanic.
Franklin County is 14.9 percent Hispanic.
2010 Census figures show 9,690 Hispanics live in DeKalb, which has a population of 71,109.
Figures show 11,238 Hispanics live in Marshall, which has a population of 93,109. More than half of the Hispanics in Marshall live in Albertville.
Rep. Kerry Rich, one of the leaders of immigration reform in Alabama, is not at all shocked by the figures.
"I wouldn't be a bit surprised if it's more than that," Rich said.
The Albertville Republican represents District 26, which includes portions of DeKalb and Marshall counties. Rich was a strong proponent of the recently passed immigration legislation in Alabama.
The three-term legislator said he expects the new law to stem the tide of dramatically increasing numbers of Hispanics living in the state.
"I think it will affect it if the law is upheld in the courts, which I think it eventually will be upheld," Rich said. "I don't have a problem with Hispanics as people. God loves them just as much as he loves me. The problem is a large number of them come here illegally. It's the consequences of them being here illegally.
"You can only assimilate so many people in your area at one time," he added. "When it goes above a certain level, it's just impossible to assimilate them in your society. And that's what we have on Sand Mountain. We have had such an influx, it's just impossible to assimilate them all."
The Marshall County city seeing by far the most increase in Hispanic population is Albertville.
"I think the new law is going to halt the trend even before the September 1 enactment date," said Albertville Mayor Lindsey Lyons. "I think it's already had an effect on self-deportation even as we speak. In Albertville, our law enforcement is prepared to enforce all parts of that law. It's our responsibility and duty, and we're going to do it."
2010 Census figures show Albertville with a Hispanic population well above the Marshall County average. The Census reported 5,899 Hispanics in Albertville, or 27.9 percent of the city's 21,160 total population.
Lyons thinks the population is even higher.
"I have some misgivings about the Census figures," he said. "We'll never know how many of that population didn't participate and give the required information. It could very well be an undercount."
In Boaz, the Census reported 806 Hispanics, or 8.4 percent of the city's 9,551 total population.
In the U.S., the Census reported 50.5 million people of Hispanic or Latino origin, or about 16 percent of the nation's 308.7 million total population.