For months, the nation has been debating Arizona's new law to crack down on illegal immigration. That legislation went into effect on July 29, minus its more controversial elements, such as requiring immigrants to carry proof of citizenship papers. It was a win of sorts for those who opposed the policy, but the immigration debate's clear setback has been the rise in hate crimes against Latinos.
Just over a week ago, a Mexican immigrant who has lived in the U.S. for 20 years, walked home from a soccer game in New York's Staten Island to be attacked by five men shouting racial slurs. The victim, whose name is being withheld, suffered a broken jaw and is now reduced to eating liquids.
A hate crime against just one man is distressing enough, but there's reportedly been a wave of attacks against Latinos lately. The Hate Crimes Task Force of the New York Police Department has investigated more than twice as many hate crimes now than it did a year ago, according to the Staten Island Advance. And a number of recent crimes have occurred in Staten Island's Latino neighborhood, Port Richmond. Moreover, FBI statistics indicate that anti-Latino crimes in America increased by nearly 40 percent from 2003 to 2007. That's extremely alarming considering that the Latino population in the United States rose by just 14 percent during the same timeframe.
So, what's responsible for the spike in attacks against Latinos? Some of the ugly ways the immigration debate has been framed may very well be the cause. Latinos have been blamed for stealing jobs away from "real" Americans, rising taxes, high crime and spreading illnesses such as leprosy and tuberculosis to the U.S. They have, in short, been turned into a kind of boogeyman. This leads others not only to resent them but to dehumanize them also, which can lead to a spike in hate crimes.
"Hate criminals, most of them young men, believe they are carrying out the fervent, unspoken wishes of their communities," Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report, told CNN in 2008.
At that time, Luis Ramirez, an undocumented Mexican immigrant, was killed in Shenandoah, Penn., for walking down the street with a white woman. Before that, xenophobes beat Ecuadorean Jose Osvaldo Sucuzhañay to death with a baseball bat in Brooklyn, N.Y. And before that, seven teenagers stabbed Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero to death in Patchogue, N.Y.
Anti-Latino crimes have emerged as such a trend in recent years that ABC's "What Would You Do?" aired a segment July 27 on "Mexican-hunting," as these crimes are now commonly called. Unfortunately, the program found that many people would actually walk by and do nothing if they saw an anti-Latino bashing in progress. It was disgraceful to see. But also disgraceful is how some Americans engage in the immigration debate. Whether or not you support undocumented immigrants, you have a responsibility to discuss these immigrants as if they're actual people who deserve respect rather than hatred and brutality.