Mayor says illegal aliens abound
School numbers tell a different story


September 6, 2008 - 12:05 a.m. EST




The Mundo Hispano grocery store in Walhalla stayed busy Friday. Although several Latino businesses have had a presence in the community for many years, Mayor Randy Chastain says there also is an illegal presence sapping the small city's resources.
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A Spanish sign in front of a building on South Catherine St. in Walhalla promotes free dinner Mondays from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Walhalla Mayor Randy Chastain claims he has no doubts that the number of illegal aliens is growing in his city.
WALHALLA —Mayor Randy Chastain minced few words in saying that an increasing illegal immigration presence is sapping his city of resources and adding a heavy burden on the backs of Oconee County taxpayers.

At the same time, Chastain categorically denied that the city’s police department, headed by his brother, Tim Chastain, is engaged in racial profiling.

The mayor said he has to set the record straight because published reports gave the impression that Latinos are being arrested for minor traffic violations.

Chastain said the proliferation of graffiti and the arrest last month of an undocumented Guatemalan man charged with murder are signs that a serious illegal alien problem exists in Walhalla.

However, if illegal Latino immigrants are overrunning the city and the county, as Chastain contends, School District of Oconee County student population tallies fail to support that premise. School officials say they have not seen any dramatic spike in the number of Latino students attending Oconee schools.

School spokesperson Kay Powell said 754 Hispanic students are enrolled in grades kindergarten- through 12-grades for the 2008-09 school year. That is a 6.6 percent increase from the 707 Latino student population recorded the previous year.

Given that the total student population in Oconee has hovered around 10,500 for the past 40 years, Hispanics make up 0.07 percent of students in Oconee classrooms.

At James M. Brown Elementary School on Coffee Road in Walhalla, which at one time had one of the largest Latino-student enrollments in the state, their numbers actually declined during the current school year.

Principal John Frady said 171of the 696 students enrolled at the school this year are Hispanic. Last year, 175 Latinos were enrolled there.

Over the past five years, the largest Latino enrollment at the school was 177 students during the 2005-06 school year. During the same period, the percentage of Hispanic students at the school has fluctuated from 23 percent to almost 25 percent.

Frady, who grew up in Walhalla and attended public schools there, said he doesn’t get into the debate about illegal immigration.

“I’m all about education and not immigration,