Special interest groups backing amnesty for illegal aliens under the guise of 'earned legalization,' or 'a pathway to citizenship' have been frustrated in achieving their legislative goals in Congress. In response, they have increased their attempts to discredit their opponents. Amnesty proponents have long tried to brand their opponents as being 'anti-immigrant.' These politically motivated attacks ignore the fact that illegal immigration is an entirely separate issue from legal immigration. The Washington Post, which ordinarily sides editorially with defenders of illegal immigrants, has recognized that persons opposed to that position are not against immigration. The newspaper's Ombudsman in a commentary in the March 2, 2008 issue chided the editors for failure to uphold their own policy against such references, stating, "A few 'anti-immigrant' references have popped up in recent stories and shouldn't have." 1
The Southern Poverty Law Center has asserted that organizations that call attention to negative aspects of illegal immigration are guilty of 'hate speech.' 2 That claim has been echoed by advocates for illegal immigrants such as the National Council of La Raza. This is in effect a scolding that if you can't say something nice about illegal aliens you shouldn't say anything at all. This campaign, which has recently targeted major broadcast news media, is a veiled attempt to censor opposition to their policy objectives. It also is an attack on the role of an informed citizenry in the operation of a democratic society. Another assertion these organizations throw at their opponents is that drawing attention to the problem of illegal immigration has led to a surge in 'hate crimes.' 3 That is a serious allegation and merits a serious look at the facts.
Data on hate crimes are collected by the FBI. Two of the FBI's data categories are Hispanic victims and incidents against Hispanics. A hate crime is considered to be, "…a criminal offense committed against a person, property, or society that is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin." 4
To facilitate a meaningful analysis of violent crime in the U.S. over time, the FBI data reports the number of crimes as a factor of the size of the U.S. population at that time, i.e., the number of crimes per 100,000 residents. The reason for this is that this allows a focus on whether violent crime is growing faster or slower than the overall population. Even though the incidence of violent crime might be higher over the period of a decade, if the number of recorded instances per 100,000 residents is fewer, this means that the likelihood of a person being the victim of a hate crime had lessened.
Because the likelihood of a Latino being the victim of a hate crime does not depend upon the size of the U.S. population, but rather the size of the Latino population, the charts display the number of reported hate crime incidents and victims per 100,000 Hispanic residents using the population estimate of the U.S. Census Bureau. From 2001 to 2011, that population has increased by 40 percent. 5
As may clearly be seen in the data display, the likelihood that a Latino living in the U.S. was the victim of a hate crime has significantly declined over this period — by more than one-third (34.2%) for victims and by nearly as much (32.2%) for incidents. This is directly contradicts the assertion of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) that hate crime statistics, "...strongly suggest a marked upswing in racially motivated violence against all Latinos, regardless of immigration status." 6 The SPLC statement is intentionally misleading because it fails to adjust the hate crime data for the size of the Latino population, because it ignores the increase in jurisdictions submitting hate crime reports, and because it hides the longer-range downward trend in reported hate crimes against Latinos.
The Illegal Alien Debate
The SPLC's misleading information is couched in a discussion of increased public expression of opposition to the growing illegal alien population. The debate over illegal immigration and legislative measures to deal with it has steadily increased in recent years at the national, state, and local level. If the SPLC's assertion were valid, the recent data for hate crimes would have shown a major increase. As the data shown above indicates, however, the number of hate crimes against Latinos per 100,000 actually dropped from 1.6 in 2001 to 0.78 in 2011. The comparable hate crime victim incidence over the same period fell even more sharply from 2.19 to 1.28.
Americans are increasingly aware of the serious impacts on social services, jobs, wages, and government finances that result from illegal immigration. This increasing awareness has manifested itself in several ways. First, as was evident with the failure of the Bush-Kennedy Amnesty Bill (S.1639) in 2007, grassroots activism to combat illegal immigration has increased. It is also clear that an increasing number of state and local jurisdictions are debating and adopting measures to discourage illegal immigration. This is healthy evidence of the democratic process at work.
However, an objective examination of the statistical data exposes as misleading the claims that the debate over illegal immigration has led to an increase in the number of hate crimes against Hispanics. The trend in FBI-recorded hate crimes data is downward, not upward as a share of that growing population. It is important that the American people have accurate information on issues as pressing as immigration reform and hate crimes. Mischaracterization of trends in a manner that attempts to muzzle debate and informed judgment is a disservice to the public.
Updated: December 2012
- Howell, Deborah, "Immigration Coverage in the Crossfire," Washington Post, March 2, 2008.
- Alexovich, Ariel, "A Call to End Hate Speech", The New York Times Politics Blog, February 1, 2008. The head of the country's largest Latino civil rights organization called on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News to stop providing a forum for pundits who consistently disparage the documented and undocumented Hispanic immigrant population. Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington on Thursday, Janet Murguia, the NCLR president, said that "anti-Latino remarks on the big three cable news networks are insulting not only to minorities but also to the greater American population."
- NCLR president, Janet Murguia said, "It is no coincidence that we are seeing the highest historical spike in hate crimes against Hispanics." NCLR Press Release, January 21, 2008. (March 6, 2008)
- Federal Bureau of Investigations, "Hate Crime Definition" This data set excludes the 9/11 al Qaeda terrorist attack on American citizens and residents. (March 7, 2008)
- U.S. Census Bureau. (March 7, 2008.)
- Southern Poverty Law Center "Intelligence Brief", web site consulted March 27, 2008.
- The decline in the incidence of hate crimes as shown in the graphic understates the downward trend because, as noted on the FBI website, the number of reporting agencies has increased over time. That means that if the number of hate crimes were constant, the results would likely be an increase in the number of reports of hate crimes for no other reason than the increase in reporting agencies.