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Wednesday, June 8, 2011 - 1:46pm

As Customers Flee, Latino Grocers Worry

Businesses catering to Hispanics are fearing for their futures as they watch their customer base flee.

Georgia's new immigration law is having effects beyond illegal immigrants and the industries where they work.

Business owners catering to a Latino market say, many of their customers are fleeing the state, leaving them with silent cash registers.

Maria Benitez says, sales at her grocery and restaurant in Southeast Georgia's Evans County have dropped in half since April.

"We're thinking that if things continue like this, we might close up shop in a month or two," Benitez says in Spanish. "In these two months, sales have fallen dramatically."

Benitez says, she's operated her businesses for about eight years, paying state and local taxes.

Proponents of tougher immigration laws say, such losses are more than offset by the burdens lifted from underfunded schools and hospitals.

Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies says, it's not surprising that such small shops are closing.

"Those businesses whose business model is based on serving illegal immigrants are going to suffer when we start enforcing the law," Krikorian says. "They are profiting from illegal activity."

The law going into effect in July lets police in some cases check a suspect's immigration status and take them to jail if they're here illegally.