LatinaLista -- In 2008, it seemed an odd coincidence that there should be two murders, later deemed hate crimes, of Latino immigrants so close together.
Four months later in November in Long Island, New York, Marcelo Lucero was stabbed to death by a group of teens on the lookout for "Hispanics."
Both these high-profile cases aroused an uneasiness, not only in law enforcement, but in advocates for immigrant rights. Could this anti-immigrant sentiment at such a local level be indicative of something bigger?
Now, a new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center titled Rage on the Right: The Year in Hate and Extremism validates those feelings.
According to the report, the number of racist hate groups rose from 926 in 2008 to 932 in 2009.
The increase caps a decade in which the number of hate groups surged by 55 percent.
There also has been a surge in "nativist extremist" groups - vigilante organizations that go beyond advocating strict immigration policy and actually confront or harass suspected immigrants.
These groups grew from 173 groups in 2008 to 309 in 2009, a rise of nearly 80 percent.
That's not just bad news for immigrant rights groups, law enforcement or immigrant communities, but it's bad news for every American citizen, especially Latino citizens who fit what these groups think Latinos should look like.
They haven't figured out that Latinos come in all colors, sizes and accents.
The Southern Poverty Law Center's report mirrors the findings of the FBI's annual Hate Crime Statistics survey.
In 2007, the FBI reported that of the 1,347 victims of hate crimes motivated by the offender's bias towards a particular ethnicity/national origin, 62 percent were Latinos. In 2008, the percentage rose to 65 percent though the overall victim rate fell to 1226.
Statistics for 2009 won't be published until the fall of 2010.
Yet, people are not waiting around for federal reports to sound the alarm that everyone needs to be aware of the rise of these groups which seem intent to spread fear, mistrust and outright misleading information when it comes to Hispanic immigrants.
Last week at an appearance in Seattle, Washington, Tom Perez, assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, stated in an interview that hate crimes against Latinos were on the rise.
Yet, one writer disputed Perez' claims.
"Robert F. protectionist" writes that Perez got his facts wrong in a piece under the headline "False Picture of Hate Crimes Drawn by Obama Civil Rights Chief."
According to "Robert," the 2009 FBI hate crime data doesn't show an increase at all but a reduction of crimes against Hispanics. He never links to the report but continues to cite a series of itemized areas.
In digging around the report, I found, that in fairness, the figures "Robert" cites do show a slight decrease but don't dispute the findings in the same report that Latino victimization of hate crimes rose to 65% in 2008 from 62% in 2007.
Yr. Incidents Offenses Victims Offenders
2007 595 775 830 758
2008 561 735 792 711
Also, a comparison of the two years show that the so-called reduction has a long way to go to be considered an improvement of any kind.
"Robert" ends the piece by saying that more "factual details" can be found at the FAIR website. FAIR stands for Federation for American Immigration Reform.
Ironically, FAIR has been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as being a hate group.
Historically, hate groups have relied on violence to get their convoluted message out to the masses but nowadays, they have learned that words carry just as much weight as a flaming torch and are just as incendiary when facts are distorted enough to get people justifiably mad to speak out.
Recently, in response to a Chicago Sun-Times three-day series on young Latinos in the Chicago area where the web editors had to shut down the comments section because of a flood of racist comments, an op-ed columnist at the paper declared the country had a new pasttime:
"America's most popular sport is not baseball or football, but immigrant bashing."