LatinaLista — Maria Teresa Petersen is the founding Executive Director of Voto Latino, an organization that targets getting youth interested in civic participation. Under Petersen’s direction, over 30,000 Latino youth and adults registered to vote in the 2008 elections.
Maria Teresa Petersen
Crisscrossing the country to oversee the various voter registration campaigns Voto Latino spearheaded, Petersen heard firsthand the hopes and dreams new Latino voters had for the winning administration. Besides the economy, the major issue that impacted these new voters, in some way, was immigration.
Yet, Petersen feels immigration reform is only part of the change that President-elect Obama must address for Latino voters once he’s in the White House. In a special post for Latina Lista, Maria Teresa Petersen explains how the volatile debate over immigration reform has spawned a disturbing trend that endangers all Latinos, regardless of citizenship status.
Three of President Obama’s early appointments show he understands the immediacy of the immigration problem: his selection of Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, a border-state executive on the front lines of the immigration issue, as Homeland Security Secretary; his tapping of Stanford immigration expert Dr. Mariano-Florentino Cuellar for his immigration taskforce; and even naming Governor Bill Richardson as Commerce Secretary (think small business and undocumented workers).
All suggest our soon-to-be President may tackle immigration policy sooner than we think. But the immigration problem we are facing is not just about policy â€“ the more urgent matter is a growing climate of hate against Latinos.
While the debate over immigration continues to rage inside Washington’s corridors, some Americans have taken the often negative tone of the debate to heart. We need to take a serious look at the cruelty engulfing our small towns where the victimization of Latinos â€” whether citizens, legal immigrants, or un-documented â€” is at an all-time high.
Since 2004, hate crimes against Latinos have increased 35 percent. Fueled by the increasing anti-immigrant rhetoric that we witness on cable news, and through local small-town ordinances seeking their own solutions to the lack of federal direction, some people (often teenagers) have become angry and hateful.
The perpetrators are often white disaffected teens. In July of last year, a white teenager in Texas nearly beat to death and sodomized a peer for trying to kiss his sister. The victim, a Latino, returned to school six months later, restricted to a wheel chair and colostomy bag.
This past July, in a town near Hazelton, Pennsylvania where that mayor passed strict anti-immigrant measures, a working father of three died from severe head trauma caused by six white teenagers who targeted him for being Mexican.
Three weeks ago, six white teenagers â€” five white and one Puerto Rican, went on a Mexican bashing spree in Suffolk County, Long Island. Marcelo Lucero, a 37-year-old American resident crossed their path on his way home from work.
Mr. Lucero an Ecuadorian who had lived here since 16, fit the “Mexican” profile and they stabbed him to death. Here too, local elected officials passed unbending “Living While Latino” (LWL) laws.
These are not isolated incidents. According to the FBI, 62.5 percent of all ethnic crimes are against Latinos â€“ a figure certainly higher in reality, given how unlikely undocumented people are to report their victimization.
President-elect Obama may be rightly pushing for new immigration policy â€” and his recent appointments suggest we can expect this sooner rather than later â€” but the more urgent need is for him to help change the culture of hate that is literally putting the lives of many fellow Americans at risk, simply because of their heritage.