By Melissa M. Scallan
Enrique Vanegas moved to Biloxi from California in 2004 and since then he opened three businesses and found a good place to raise his family.
Vanegas owns El Rancho Mexican restaurants in Biloxi, D'Iberville and St. Martin and said he has seen the Hispanic population on the Coast increase over the past few years.
"I moved here because I had an opportunity to open a business," he said. "This is a nice place to raise my kids."
According to figures released today by the Census Bureau, the Hispanic population on the Coast has gone up 6 percent between April 1, 2010 and July 1, 2012. Numbers of Hispanics have risen in each coastal county.
"It doesn't surprise me," Vanegas said. "I saw it coming because of the prosperity. The Hispanic population is always looking for a good place to live and raise their children.
"After Hurricane Katrina, the Hispanic population boomed because of the work, but from 2007 to 2010 it declined.
"Now it's coming back up."
In 2010, the Hispanic population on the Coast was 17,761. In 2012, it had risen to 18,834.
Mary Townsend, immigration specialist with the nonprofit El Pueblo (The Village) in Biloxi, said there are several reasons for the increase.
"The weather is good, and the personality of the Coast is welcoming," she said. "More so than other parts of the state."
Townsend believes Hispanics began leaving this area because of an immigration law passed in 2007 making it a felony for immigrants to work without authorization.
"When laws like that pass, it scares people, and many of them feel it's too difficult to stay," she said.
Townsend added that in the past several years, many Hispanics are returning to the Coast and other parts of Mississippi.
"Many people came here after Katrina because of the jobs, and many of them stayed," she said.
Bill Chandler, executive director of the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance, said he thinks the numbers are higher than what the census shows.
"Many of the Latinos don't talk to enumerators and government officials," he said. "A lot of these are estimates."
Chandler said there are many reasons Hispanics are attracted to the Coast.
"There's more work to do as the Coast rebuilds," he said. "There are construction jobs, as well as jobs in the gaming and food processing industries."
Surce: Sun Herald