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The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition
Confronting the New Faces of Hate: Hate Crimes in America 2009. LCCR Education Fund.

The State of Hate: Escalating Hate Violence Against Immigrants

The increase in hate crimes directed against Hispanics for the fourth consecutive year is particularly noteworthy and worrisome because the number of hate crimes committed against other racial, ethnic, and religious groups has over the same period shown either no increase or a decrease.

Anti-Hispanic Hate Crime Incidents

Chart showing the number of anti-Hispanic hate crimes rising from 426 in 2003 to 595 in 2007.

Source: FBI data

The increase in violence against Hispanics correlates closely with the increasingly heated debate over Comprehensive Immigration Reform and an escalation in the level of anti-immigrant vitriol on radio, television, and the Internet. While reasonable people can and will disagree about the parameters of Comprehensive Immigration Reform, in some instances, the commentary about immigration reform has not been reasonable; it has been inflammatory. Warned an April 2009 assessment from the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), "in some cases, anti-Immigration or strident pro-enforcement fervor has been directed against specific groups and has the potential to turn violent."

This toxic environment, in which hateful rhetoric targets immigrants while the number of hate crimes against Hispanics and others perceived to be immigrants steadily increases, has caused a heightened sense of fear in communities around the country.

The Role of Extremist Anti-Immigration Groups

Some groups opposing immigration reform, such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and NumbersUSA, have portrayed immigrants as responsible for numerous societal ills, often using stereotypes and outright bigotry. While these groups, and other similar organizations, have strived to position themselves as legitimate, mainstream advocates against illegal immigration in America, a closer look at the public record reveals that some of these organizations have disturbing links to or relationships with extremists in the anti-Immigration movement. These seemingly "legitimate" advocates against illegal immigration are frequently quoted in the mainstream media, have been called to testify before Congress, and often hold meetings with lawmakers and other public figures. This is one of the most disturbing developments of the past few years: the legitimization and mainstreaming of virulently anti-immigrant rhetoric that veers dangerously close to — and too often crosses the line beyond civil discourse over contentious immigration policy issues.

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) have become increasingly concerned about the virulent anti-immigrant and anti-Latino rhetoric employed by a handful of groups and coalitions that have tried to position themselves as legitimate, mainstream advocates against illegal immigration in America. Recently, SPLC published The Nativist Lobby: Three Faces of Intolerance4 , which investigated three of these groups and found:

Three Washington, D.C.-based immigration-restriction organizations stand at the nexus of the American nativist movement: the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and NumbersUSA. Although on the surface they appear quite different — the first, the country's best-known anti-immigrant lobbying group; the second, an "independent" think tank; and the third, a powerful grassroots organizer — they are fruits of the same poisonous tree.

FAIR, CIS and NumbersUSA are all part of a network of restrictionist organizations conceived and created by John Tanton, the "puppeteer" of the nativist movement and a man with deep racist roots. Tanton has for decades been at the heart of the white nationalist scene. He has met with leading white supremacists, promoted anti-Semitic ideas, and associated closely with the leaders of a eugenicist foundation once described by a leading newspaper as a "neo-Nazi organization." He has made a series of racist statements about Latinos and worried that they were out-breeding whites. At one point, he wrote candidly that to maintain American culture, "a European-American majority" is required.

FAIR, which Tanton founded and where he remains on the board, has been listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Among the reasons are its acceptance of $1.2 million from the Pioneer Fund, a group founded to promote the genes of white colonials that funds studies of race, intelligence and genetics. FAIR has also hired as key officials men who also joined white supremacist groups. It has board members who regularly write for hate publications. It promotes racist conspiracy theories about Latinos. And it has produced television programming featuring white nationalists.

CIS was conceived by Tanton and began life as a program of FAIR. CIS presents itself as a scholarly think tank that produces serious immigration studies meant to serve "the broad national interest." But the reality is that CIS has never found any aspect of immigration that it liked, and it has frequently manipulated data to achieve the results it seeks. Its executive director last fall posted an item on the conservative National Review Online website about Washington Mutual, a bank that had earlier issued a press release about its inclusion on a list of "Business Diversity Elites" compiled by Hispanic Business magazine. Over a copy of the bank's press release, the CIS leader posted a headline — "Cause and Effect?" — that suggested a link between the bank's opening its ranks to Latinos and its subsequent collapse.

Like CIS, NumbersUSA bills itself as an organization that operates on its own and rejects racism completely. In fact, NumbersUSA was for the first five years of its existence a program of U.S. Inc., a foundation run by Tanton to fund numerous nativist groups, and its leader was an employee of that foundation for a decade. He helped edit Tanton's racist journal, The Social Contract, and was personally introduced by Tanton to a leader of the Pioneer Fund. He also edited a book by Tanton and another Tanton employee that was banned by Canadian border officials as hate literature and on one occasion spoke to the Council of Conservative Citizens, a hate group which has called blacks "a retrograde species of humanity."

Together, FAIR, CIS and NumbersUSA form the core of the nativist lobby in America. In 2007, they were key players in derailing bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform that had been expected by many observers to pass. Today, these organizations are frequently treated as if they were legitimate, mainstream commentators on immigration. But the truth is that they were all conceived and birthed by a man who sees America under threat by nonwhite immigrants. And they have never strayed far from their roots.5

The Infiltration of Mainstream Media

The increasing number of shrill anti-Immigration reform commentaries from high profile national media personalities, including CNN's Lou Dobbs and Talk Show Network's The Savage Nation host Michael Savage, correlates closely with the increase in hate crimes against Hispanics. There is a direct connection between the tenor of this rhetoric and the daily lives of immigrants, and many fear that the unintended consequence of media celebrities vilifying immigrants will be an atmosphere in which some people will act on these demonizing screeds, violently targeting immigrants and those perceived to be immigrants.

The frequent appearance of extremist groups such as FAIR on mainstream media programs and even at Congressional hearings is extremely worrisome. After reviewing FAIR's virulent rhetoric, SPLC found:

None of this — or any other material evidencing the bigotry and racism that courses through the group — seems to have affected FAIR's media standing. In 2008, the group was quoted in mainstream media outlets nearly 500 times. FAIR staff have been featured several times on CNN's "Lou Dobbs Tonight," along with countless appearances on other television news shows. Dobbs even ran his radio program from a FAIR event in Washington, D.C. this past September. And, perhaps most remarkably of all, FAIR has been taken seriously by Congress, claiming on its home page that it has been asked to testify on immigration bills "more than any other organization in America."6

As Alex Nogales, President and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) has noted, "We are very respectful of the First Amendment and free speech, but the hateful rhetoric, particularly against the immigrant minority communities, espoused by irresponsible TV and radio talk show hosts on American airwaves needs to be addressed." NHMC has undertaken a study to quantify hate speech in commercial radio, petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to open an inquiry into hate speech on the nation's airwaves, and requested that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) update its 1993 report, The Role of Telecommunications in Hate Crime.7 In that report, NTIA found "deeply troubling" examples where "telecommunications has been used to advocate or encourage the commission of hate crimes." But the report concluded that "the extent to which such messages (of hate) actually lead to the commission of crimes is unclear."8

On July 5, 2007, Michael Savage suggested America would be a better place if students staging a hunger strike in the hope of securing immigration reform legislation starved to death:

SAVAGE: Then there's the story of college students who are fasting out here in the Bay Area. They're illegal aliens and they want green cards simply because they're students. I don't understand what — how this two and two adds up. I would say, let them fast until they starve to death, then that solves the problem. Because then we won't have a problem about giving them green cards because they're illegal aliens; they don't belong here to begin with. They broke into the country; they're criminals.9

Like Savage, Lou Dobbs has also stated on his CNN show, Lou Dobbs Tonight, "illegal aliens are criminals." (Lou Dobbs Tonight transcript, 4/6/05). As NCLR has pointed out, illegal immigrants are not considered criminals under current U.S. law. NCLR has chronicled many of Lou Dobbs's other comments made on CNN about immigrants and immigration reform:

  • Dobbs has used the term "anchor babies" to refer to the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants, suggesting inaccurately that having a U.S. citizen child is a means of acquiring legal immigration status or being protected from deportation. (Lou Dobbs Tonight transcript, 3/31/05).
  • Dobbs refers frequently to illegal aliens from Mexico into the United States as the "invasion" and as an "army of invaders" (Lou Dobbs Tonight transcript, 3/31/06). One of his reporters referred to a visit from Mexico's then-President Vicente Fox as a "Mexican military incursion."
  • Dobbs linked illegal aliens to a host of diseases including tuberculosis, malaria, and leprosy. In 2005, a reporter on the show claimed that there had been 7,000 new cases of leprosy in the previous three years (Lou Dobbs Tonight transcript, 4/14/05). This claim has been disputed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.10 To date, and despite protests to the contrary, Dobbs has never acknowledged the error on his show.
  • Dobbs has featured several stories on Lou Dobbs Tonight concerning the "reconquest" of the American Southwest. In one 2005 segment, a map purportedly showing "Aztlan" was provided to the show by the Council of Conservative Citizens, a prominent White supremacist organization (Lou Dobbs Tonight transcript, 5/23/06).
  • Dobbs has also been a cheerleader for the Minuteman Project. He devoted extensive coverage to the Minuteman's first action in 2005, calling the group a "remarkable success." Minuteman leaders were frequent guests on Lou Dobbs Tonight, and on one occasion Dobbs wished one "all the success in the world."11
  • Dobbs featured on Lou Dobbs Tonight the late Madeline Cosman as a "medical expert" in a discussion of the diseases that illegal aliens are bringing into the country. Ms. Cosman was not a medical doctor, but a prominent anti-immigrant activist who stated that Mexican immigrants were prone to molesting children (Lou Dobbs Tonight transcript, 6/8/05).
  • As noted above, the Council of Conservative Citizens, one of the most well-known White supremacist groups in the country, was featured as a "source" in a 2006 segment on the show.12

On May 2, 2007, Dobbs held a special "Broken Borders" town hall meeting edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight in Hazleton, Pennsylvania to spotlight that town's passage of its "Illegal Immigrant Relief Act." This town ordinance sought to suspend the business permits and licenses of employers who hired "unlawful workers" or landlords who rented to illegal aliens. During the show, Dobbs praised the town: "Hazleton, the community, is leading the battle against illegal immigration, stepping in where the federal government has simply failed to perform its duty." The website of the Lou Dobbs Tonight show solicited contributions for the town's "legal defense fund" after a lawsuit filed by MALDEF and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) prevented the law from taking effect.13

Fourteen months later, 20 miles from Hazleton in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, Luis Ramirez, a 25 year-old Mexican and father of two, was murdered because of his ethnicity in a brutal beating allegedly by four current and former high school football players. The teenagers reportedly yelled, "This is Shenandoah, this is America, go back to Mexico," as well as ethnic slurs. They then repeatedly punched Ramirez, knocking him to the ground, and then kicked him multiple times in the head. As Ramirez lay unconscious, convulsing and foaming at the mouth, one of the assailants reportedly yelled "Tell your fucking Mexican friends to get the fuck out of Shenandoah or you'll be fucking laying next to them."

On May 1, 2009, a jury convicted two teens of simple assault, a misdemeanor, acquitting them of the most serious charges brought against them, including murder, aggravated assault, and ethnic intimidation. A third teen faces counts of aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation in juvenile court, while a fourth pleaded guilty in federal court to violating Ramirez’s civil rights in exchange for charges of third-degree murder, aggravated assault, and related counts against him being dropped.

Shenandoah had been considering an ordinance similar to Hazelton's but held off after the ACLU and MALDEF lawsuit blocked it from taking effect. Still, the Hazelton ordinance caused considerable tension between the town's Hispanic and white communities, which had formerly enjoyed peaceful relations. "They (the Hispanic community) just didn't feel comfortable then," said Flor Gomez, whose family runs a Mexican restaurant in Shenandoah. As The New York Times reported, "Many people believe the debate fueled by Hazleton's actions helped create the environment that led to Mr. Ramirez's death."

"Clearly there were a lot of factors here," said Gladys Limón, a lawyer for MALDEF. "But I do believe that the inflammatory rhetoric in the immigration debate does have a correlation with increased violence against Latinos."14

Next Section: The State of Hate: White Supremacist Groups Growing


4. Heidi Beirich, The Nativist Lobby: Three Faces of Intolerance (pdf), ed. Mark Potok, Southern Poverty Law Center, February 2009.

5. Mark Potok, Southern Poverty Law Center website, "The Nativist Lobby: Three Faces of Intolerance," February 2009.

6. Beirich, The Nativist Lobby: Three Faces of Intolerance, 9.

7. Summary: FCC Petition for Inquiry on Hate Speech in Media (pdf).

8. U.S. Dept. of Commerce, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, The Role of Telecommunications in Hate Crime, December 1993, i.

9. County Fair Blog, Media Matters for America, "Savage on Immigrant Students' Hunger Strike..." July 6, 2007. [Boldface added].

10. New U.S. Reported Hansen's Disease (Leprosy) Cases by Year, 19762006, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Service Administration.

11. Additional information on the Minuteman Project.

12. WeCanStopTheHate.org, National Council of La Raza, "Journalists as Anti-immigrant Activists," n.d..

13. County Fair Blog, Media Matters for America, "Hosting Segment From Hazleton, Pa., Dobbs Did Not Acknowledge Fundraising for the Embattled Town," May 9, 2007.

14. Sean D. Hamill, "Mexican's Death Bares a Town's Ethnic Tension," New York Times, August 5, 2008, . John J. Moser, "1st-, 2nd-Degree Murder Charges Tossed in Death of Ramirez, The Morning Call, August 19, 2008. Endnotes

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