Southern lifestyles are a new magnet for immigrants

CHARLOTTE, N.C. _ Carola Cardenas left her native Venezuela twice to live in the United States. Both times she moved to cities that have long attracted large numbers of immigrants, first to Los Angeles, then New York.

But after four years living in the shadow of Manhattan in nearby New Jersey, Cardenas, 36, and her husband decided to plant some roots elsewhere. They chose Charlotte _ far away from any traditional immigrant gateway.

"We had the idea of forming a family," she says. "We now have a daughter. And we were definitely looking for what would be the best place to raise a child."

The family's story reflects the path that many immigrants, here legally or not, are taking _ from U.S. urban enclaves filled with immigrants who share their language and culture to Southern cities such as Charlotte that offer appealing and affordable suburban lifestyles.

A study published this year by the New York-based Center for an Urban Future found that a growing number of successful immigrants in New York are moving to Southern cities that boast a lower cost of living and a better chance to achieve middle-class goals like homeownership and sending their children to college.

Analysts say the trend reflects immigrants' greater assimilation and movement up the economic ladder. It also reflects new migration patterns that have been created as large numbers from ethnic communities have spread into regions that traditionally had very little diversity.

"What we're seeing is in the bigger, more established cities _ Los Angeles, New York, Chicago _ those places have become more limited, so immigrants are looking for opportunities elsewhere," says Audrey Singer, an immigration specialist at The Brookings Institution. "If you look at the density of New York versus Charlotte, the housing prices, school issues, and the range of quality of life, some immigrants decide to take a chance."

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