In Alabama, a church sees its Latino brethren vanish:  Since the state passed its tough immigration law, many are moving elsewhere. At one Southern Baptist church, white members struggle to reconcile their support for the measure with compassion for their fellow Christians.

In an hour, the sanctuary would fill with the church’s white members, nearly all of them conservatives and most supporters of Republican Gov. Robert J. Bentley, the Southern Baptist deacon who championed the law as the nation’s toughest after signing it in September.
For more than a decade, however, the white Southern Baptists in this small country church have opened their doors, wallets and hearts to a group of Latino strangers who appeared among them suddenly one Sunday, desperate for a place to pray.
They hired a bilingual pastor, launched a countywide “Hispanic mission,” and let their children play side by side with the newcomers’ kids on field trips and in summer camps. They knew or suspected that many of them were here illegally.

This is fascinating.
Photo: Pastor Randy Billingsley sits with children for a short story as part of the English service at Riverside Heights Baptist Church in Tallassee, Ala. Latino families attend a Spanish-language service in another room. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

In Alabama, a church sees its Latino brethren vanish: Since the state passed its tough immigration law, many are moving elsewhere. At one Southern Baptist church, white members struggle to reconcile their support for the measure with compassion for their fellow Christians.

In an hour, the sanctuary would fill with the church’s white members, nearly all of them conservatives and most supporters of Republican Gov. Robert J. Bentley, the Southern Baptist deacon who championed the law as the nation’s toughest after signing it in September.

For more than a decade, however, the white Southern Baptists in this small country church have opened their doors, wallets and hearts to a group of Latino strangers who appeared among them suddenly one Sunday, desperate for a place to pray.

They hired a bilingual pastor, launched a countywide “Hispanic mission,” and let their children play side by side with the newcomers’ kids on field trips and in summer camps. They knew or suspected that many of them were here illegally.

This is fascinating.

Photo: Pastor Randy Billingsley sits with children for a short story as part of the English service at Riverside Heights Baptist Church in Tallassee, Ala. Latino families attend a Spanish-language service in another room. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

A hard life for one Latina teenager: Miriam Hernandez, 16, was born in Georgia. Working two jobs to help support her white Southern mother and siblings, she is the main breadwinner since her stepfather, an undocumented immigrant, voluntarily returned to El Salvador.
Photo: Miriam Hernandez is comforted by her mother, Donna Carrillos, after a trying day at work. She waits tables and cleans houses to support her family. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

A hard life for one Latina teenager: Miriam Hernandez, 16, was born in Georgia. Working two jobs to help support her white Southern mother and siblings, she is the main breadwinner since her stepfather, an undocumented immigrant, voluntarily returned to El Salvador.

Photo: Miriam Hernandez is comforted by her mother, Donna Carrillos, after a trying day at work. She waits tables and cleans houses to support her family. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Legal taxis ferry illegal immigrants to work in Georgia:  A crackdown in Gainesville means driving without a license can lead to deportation, so many use a “taxista” — or simply move away.
This is the third part of our occasional series on the New Latino South.
Photo:  Carlos Santiago, 19, pays Diaz the taxi fare as he arrives at a Gainesville restaurant where he’s a dishwasher and cook. He says the daily $8 round-trip expense is a big bite out of his $8.50-an-hour wages. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Legal taxis ferry illegal immigrants to work in Georgia: A crackdown in Gainesville means driving without a license can lead to deportation, so many use a “taxista” — or simply move away.

This is the third part of our occasional series on the New Latino South.

Photo: Carlos Santiago, 19, pays Diaz the taxi fare as he arrives at a Gainesville restaurant where he’s a dishwasher and cook. He says the daily $8 round-trip expense is a big bite out of his $8.50-an-hour wages. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Labor contractor Don Pedro — like farmers across Georgia — is worried that the state’s tough new immigration law is scaring away an illegal immigrant workforce.

Don Pedro said his job has never been so tough, nor workers so scarce. His boss had told the state Labor Department he needed pickers, but he had received no responses. He wasn’t surprised, even though the jobless rate in Irwin County was 13%. Few here believe that native Southerners, white or black, wish to return to the land their ancestors once sharecropped or tended in bondage.

The latest in our New Latino South series. The stories here are really excellent. You absolutely need to take a look.
Photo: At the height of blackberry season, farm labor contractor Pedro Guerrero makes a call as he drives from town to town in the south Georgia countryside in search of farm workers. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Labor contractor Don Pedro — like farmers across Georgia — is worried that the state’s tough new immigration law is scaring away an illegal immigrant workforce.

Don Pedro said his job has never been so tough, nor workers so scarce. His boss had told the state Labor Department he needed pickers, but he had received no responses. He wasn’t surprised, even though the jobless rate in Irwin County was 13%. Few here believe that native Southerners, white or black, wish to return to the land their ancestors once sharecropped or tended in bondage.

The latest in our New Latino South series. The stories here are really excellent. You absolutely need to take a look.

Photo: At the height of blackberry season, farm labor contractor Pedro Guerrero makes a call as he drives from town to town in the south Georgia countryside in search of farm workers. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

The new Latino South

The Latino population in the South has grown dramatically over the last decade. The story of Pedro Guzman, a Guatemalan with a U.S. family, is one in a series of occasional stories chronicling the lives of Latinos in a changing region.