About two years ago, Felipe was attacked while walking to school. His attackers, two white men, called him a "stupid wetback." They told him "Go back to your country, you don't belong here." Felipe, an undocumented immigrant, survived with a black eye, cut lip and swollen head.
This didn't happen in a faraway place. It happened while Felipe was walking to Salt Lake's West High School. His ordeal is profiled in the Southern Poverty Law Center's latest report on hate crimes, which says hate crimes against Hispanics rose 35 percent between 2003 and 2006. Experts believe such crimes are typically carried out by people who think they are attacking immigrants, according to the SPLC's newly released "Intelligence Report."
The report also notes a chilling increase in the number of hate groups operating in the United States, up 48 percent since 2000. The increase, largely attributed to anti-immigrant fervor, includes at least one group that operates in Utah, the Utah Minuteman Project. The report classifies the group as "nativist extremist." The state leader of the organization says they consider the label as a "badge of honor" because they view the SPLC as "anti-American."
Regardless, this report exposes yet another reason that Congress must deal with the nation's illegal immigration issue.
In a culture that values justice for all, no hate crime is acceptable. To learn that the number of hate groups has grown significantly in border states California, Arizona and Texas in recent years suggests a considerable uptick in anti-immigrant sentiment. Such rhetoric can fuel bias crimes.
Absent meaningful immigration reform by the federal government, a number of state legislatures are attempting to take matters into their own hands. Many of those debates have been ugly and divisive. The nation is left with a patchwork quilt of state laws, which appease special interests but do little to address what is a federal issue.
Immigration reform must become a higher priority for members of Congress. It is a complex issue that affects America's economy, education, criminal justice and health-care systems. Primarily, it is a human issue. Meaningful reform must be viewed through that lens.
Americans cannot tolerate crimes against a class of people, particularly children who have no control over their immigration status. Instead of demonizing undocumented immigrants and their families, energies would be better spent encouraging meaningful immigration reform.