Immigration Influx Changes States Far From Border

March 28, 2006 — -- Most days, Bernardo Antonio is out the door by 7 a.m., when he sends his children off to public school.

When he came to rural Duplin County, N.C., in the mid-'80s, he was one of the few Latinos there.

Now the local butcher tailors his cuts to Mexican tastes, which include cow tongue and chicken feet. And everywhere signs appear in Spanish.

The number of foreign-born immigrants has doubled, sometimes tripled, in the last 10 years in states far from the Mexican border. It's pure economics: Immigrants head for places where there are jobs to be had.

"I'm going to use an expression," Antonio said. "[It's] like ants. When ants go out and find something to eat, they come and they attract the others."

Changing Towns

The influx of immigrants has changed the whole fabric of Duplin County. On one country crossroads, ABC News found a tiny store where you don't have to speak English to get by. One woman was buying calling cards to phone the three children she left behind in Guatemala.

"My daughter says, 'Come home, Mama,'" she said. "But I can't. If I leave, I can't come back."

The woman works up the road at Carolina Turkeys, which employs more than 2,500 people. Many, if not most, are immigrants. And many, like this woman, are undocumented.

"The money here is many times what it is in Guatemala," she said.

Across North Carolina, schools must now hire Spanish-speaking teachers. Hospitals incur the cost of medical care for an increasing number of babies born to illegal immigrants.

These facts don't sit well with some longtime residents. "They have moved into our county," one said, "and it has caused a problem with schools and the people who have been here for years and paid taxes."

An Economic Necessity?

Many of the jobs immigrants take are off the books. By one estimate, employers and illegal immigrants are shortchanging the federal government some $35 billion in unpaid income taxes.

According to one new study, each Latino resident costs North Carolina taxpayers $102. But the equation is complex. "The economic output of this state is increasingly dependent upon Hispanics," said John Kasarda of the Kenan Institute at the University of North Carolina.

Businesses depend on hard-working immigrants.

"I really do not feel we can do without them," said John Williams, a Laundromat owner. "I know that some blacks have said that Hispanics are taking our jobs, you know, and I don't believe that. Some whites are feeling that they are a threat, but they are not taking the job if you do not go to your job. They are waiting on the job."

Without someone like Antonio to do the dirty work, local business leaders say old railroad towns in the region wouldn't survive.

ABC News' Kate Snow reported this story for "World News Tonight."