Friday, May 24, 2024

Rhetoric Fuels Anti-Immigrant Violence


Last Saturday, Marcello Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant living in Long Island was attacked and killed by a group of high school students who, according to police, wanted “to beat up some Mexicans”. Lucero had lived in the US as long as some of his alleged attackers have been alive.

The attack and killing of Marcello Lucero, while an example of a terrible extreme, is unfortunately not an isolated case. According to the FBI, hate crimes against Hispanics in this country have been on the rise since 2003. Is anti-immigrant rhetoric fueling this trend?

While the FBI report on this issue is disturbing, we can safely assume that many of these incidences go unreported. It is not unusual for immigrants, particularly if they are here without documentation, to not report crimes against themselves out of fear. So, the real number of hate crimes is likely to be higher.

The rise in the number of attacks parallels other factors. First, simple demographics: the number of Hispanics in the United States is on the rise. Latinos looking for economic opportunity are now establishing communities in parts of the country that had previously been very homogeneous. With an increase in numbers, more attention is being paid at all levels of government to the immigration issue. More and more, immigrants themselves have become more outspoken for the needs of their community. This is turn has buoyed the anti-immigrant forces. Deep seated feelings, and in some cases hate, have fanned the flames of this debate to sometimes move beyond angry words.

High profile critics of immigration do not help move the debate away from angry rhetoric either. This past election cycle even saw one candidate for the Republican nomination running solely on an anti-immigration platform. In 2005, the Southern Poverty Law Center warned that CNN anchor, Lou Dobbs, was giving a forum to anti-immigrant extremists but “has failed to present mounting and persistent evidence of anti-Hispanic racism in anti-immigration groups and citizen border patrols.”  Clearly, while we cannot blame violent acts on Dobbs, he represents the best known and widest reaching voice for these anti-immigrant forces.

Violence against immigrants is not a new phenomenon in this country. A sad part of our national history shows that as new groups of people reach out shores too often they become targets for scapegoating. Combined with tough economic times, the potential for tragedy is huge, as we have unfortunately seen.

As our country enters a new era of hope and change, it is going to be incumbent upon our leaders – at all levels -to decry the use of not only violence in action, but violence in words against any one group of people and to elevate the national debate over immigration to a level that has no place for this hate-filled rhetoric. We as a nation of immigrants deserve as much.

Read more:WTOP