As Hate Crimes Rise, Police Chiefs Call Immigration System an Obstacle to Prosecution

Law enforcement officials from around the country say that the current immigration system creates obstacles to their work because undocumented immigrants who are victims of hate crimes are often afraid to report them. The comments came in the same week that a civil rights organization reported that a hate crime occurs in the nation every hour on average and Attorney General Eric Holder called for updating the laws against those attacks.

The chiefs of police of communities in various states said Tuesday in a conference call that changes are needed to immigration laws to end the climate of insecurity and impunity, the Spanish news service Agencia Efe reported. The call included officials from Austin, Texas, North Charleston, N.C., and Topeka, Kansas.

“We need to reestablish trust in law enforcement,” said Art Acevedo, Austin police chief and the president of the National Latino Peace Officers Association.

“Our community is full of immigrants living in fear who therefore have doubts when the time comes to cooperate with the law,” he added.

According to Acevedo, many undocumented people are all too often threatened with being reported to immigration authorities if they report a crime in which they are a victim.

Ron Miller, Topeka’s police chief, said the justice system needs to stop taking immigration status into account when dealing with criminals.

“If they commit illegal acts, they have to be prosecuted, of course,” he said. “But if they are the victims, they have to be protected like any other citizen and that is not happening.”

The officers’ call for changes to the system came as the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund on Tuesday reported a “rise in anti-Latino hate crimes in the wake of the heated national debate over immigration reform.”

Fear and vilification of immigrants has combined with the worst economic downturn in decades and the election of the first African-American president to cause a surge in the activity of white supremacist groups.

[ Read full report: Confronting the New Faces of Hate ]

According to EFE, hate crimes against Latinos increased by 40% between 2003 and 2007. Feet in 2 Worlds has reported on several cases in the last few months.

On the same day the report was released, Attorney General Holder called for an update of the federal hate crimes laws that would help punish attacks motivated by someone’s sexual orientation, disability or gender.

Holder, CNN reported, referred to three recent prominent hate attacks.

… the shooting death of a security guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, said to be by a self-avowed white supremacist; the shooting of two U.S. soldiers in Little Rock, Arkansas, which prosecutors say was committed by a man targeting the U.S. military for what it had done to Muslims; and the murder of a doctor who ran a women’s clinic in Wichita, Kansas, said to be by an abortion opponent.

[Read CNN – Holder again urges

stronger hate-crime legislation ]

“I testified in support of stronger federal hate crimes legislation when I was deputy attorney general almost 10 years ago,” Holder added.

“My friends, that is far too long to wait. Too long to wait for the authority to prosecute offenses motivated by a person’s gender, disability or sexual orientation. Too long to wait for the tools necessary to staunch the rising tide of bias-motivated violence directed at the Latino community. Put simply, too long to wait for justice.”

AboutDiego Graglia
Diego Graglia is a bilingual multimedia journalist who has worked at major media outlets in the U.S. and Latin America. He is currently the editor-in-chief at Expansion, Meixco’s leading business magazine.