Framework

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At 5:30 am, Jose Luis Diaz catches a wink in his taxi on the side of Atlantic Highway in Gainesville, Ga. Within minutes, calls will pour in from shift workers going to and from poultry processing plants. Soon all of his Fiesta Cab Co. drivers will be on the move. Then he'll pickup customers and continue to dispatch his 31 drivers at the same time.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Dawn goes by in a blur as cab company owner Jose Luis Diaz heads down the road just outside of town. Most of his early-morning fares are Latino laborers going to polleras -- the factories that have earned this city the nickname "Poultry Processing Capital of the World".

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Diaz dispatches one of his cab drivers on the two-way radio as he drives Christina Salcido to work. Salcido says she's worked in chicken processing plants in Gainesville for the last 20 years but has never learned to drive.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Wearing the factory required rubber boots, chicken processing workers arrive by taxis at the start of their morning shift. Fear of Georgia's crackdown on illegal immigrants has helped nourish a robust taxi culture in Gainesville. The eight Latino-owned cab companies are a kind of capitalist work-around for undocumented laborers who risk fines and deportation if caught driving without a license.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Unemployed day laborers who came by taxi to a strip mall on Atlanta Highway in Gainesville gather for a prayer. Thony Tourel, far right, and Jean-Baptiste Henry, left, are volunteers with a local France-based Catholic missionary group FIDESCO. They also dispense free coffee and sweet rolls every morning.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Unemployed day laborers who came by taxi to a strip mall on Atlanta Highway in Gainesville, GA, gather for a prayer led by volunteers from the local France-based Catholic missionary group FIDESCO.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Carlos Santiago, 19, pays Diaz the taxi fare as he arrives at a Gainesville restaurant where he's a dishwasher and cook. The says the daily $8 round-trip expense is a big bite out of his $8.50-an-hour wages.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Carlos Santiago, 19, with his wife, Cynthia Flores,18, and their baby girl, Lisbeth, holds a picture of his parents, who recently went back to their native Mexico. Carlos says, "They came here Georgia with me 10 years ago to make a better life," but they recently began to fear deportation under Georgia's tough new laws. Carlos and Cynthia are local high school graduates, speak English and say they feel American, not Mexican.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Family and friends bid farewell to those leaving Gainesville, on the bus to the Mexico border. It's a daily occurrence for illegal immigrants who feel the pressure of Georgia's tough new immigration laws and decide to leave the country on their own.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Cendy Martinez breaks down in tears as a bus carrying several family members pulls away from a stop on Atlanta Highway in Gainesville. She is a legal resident but others in her family without papers decided to go back to Mexico to escape the possibility of deportation. Signs on the store offer a tax identification card service that allows illegal immigrants to pay income taxes without fear of immigration interference.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Local resident Richard Smith plays his guitar for tips beneath a Confederate Civil War memorial on the leafy town square. The city has seen its Latino population swell from 8% to 42% in the last two decades, but there are almost no Latino businesses here in the historic center of town. The supermarcados and taco stands are miles to the south, on a motly stretch of Atlanta Highway.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

One of Gainesville 177 licensed taxicabs crosses Atlantic Highway, a commercial part of town that caters to the city's Latino community. Taxis are an integral part of life in Gainsville, where many workers are undocumented and don't have a driver's license.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Nearing the end of his 13-hour workday, Diaz has all the necessities on the desk where he dispatches his 31 Fiesta Cab Co. drivers.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

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Robust taxi culture in rural Georgia

Jose Luis Diaz, a 41-year-old U.S. citizen originally from Mexico, has created an odd kind of American success story: His Fiesta Cab Co., with its 31 licensed cars, is a perfectly legitimate business that serves a mostly illegitimate clientele.

Read Richard Fausset’s story

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