Expert Commentary

Impact of immigration on anti-Hispanic hate crime in the United States

2011 study in the Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice on higher levels of hate crimes in places of increased immigration.

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Hispanics are the largest minority group in the United States, and with greater prominence has come heightened tensions. Like many minorities, Latino immigrants suffer from negative stereotyping — for example, that they hijack jobs or are reluctant to adopt mainstream language and cultural practices.

Actions by antagonistic individuals against immigrant populations are not formally documented by federal organizations. In fact, crimes against immigrant groups are not considered hate crimes, per se — there is no category specific to such groups. Instead, the Federal Bureau of Investigation defines hate crimes as criminal offenses that are motivated on the whole or in part due to the offender’s bias against race, ethnicity, disability or sexual orientation.

A 2011 study from Virginia Union University and the University of Missouri published in the Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, “The Impact of Immigration on Anti-Hispanic Hate Crime in the United States,” analyzes FBI, Census and Department of Homeland Security data to determine incidence levels of anti-Hispanic hate crime in periods and places with higher levels of immigration.

The study’s findings include:

  • Immigration increased through 2002, dropped in 2003 and rose again in 2004. The hate crime rate against Hispanics also fell through 2003 and rose again in 2004.
  • States reported an average of 10 anti-Hispanic crimes each year between 2000 and 2004, with nearly twice as many hate crimes in the West and Northeast. The difference in reported hate crimes is in spite of the fact that immigration appears evenly distributed across regions, with an average overall immigration rate of 1,464 per 100,000.
  • The FBI found 44% of hate crimes against Hispanics were property crimes (vandalism) and 56% were personal crimes (intimidation representing a majority of offenses).
  • Where Hispanics are more numerous, hate crimes against them are less frequent.
  • Roughly 21% of reporting agencies reported zero anti-Hispanic hate crimes.
  • Neither the measure of economic threat, nor overall state economic conditions, nor white-to-Hispanic unemployment had a measurable impact on anti-Hispanic hate crime.

The authors note that the study’s narrow focus on legal immigration limits the findings. Because undocumented immigrants generally follow similar settlement patterns, however — and because potential hate crime offenders cannot distinguish immigration status — the researchers state that they expect similar results among undocumented immigrants. A further limitation of the study is the issue of under-reporting. Hate crimes against immigrant populations often go unreported as immigrants fear deportation. The authors encourage new reporting mechanisms that include sanctuary policies to ensure that undocumented immigrants can report crimes without incurring a risk of deportation.

Tags: Latino, Hispanic, crime, civil rights

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