IMMIGRATION BACKLASH: VIOLENCE ENGULFS LATINOS
By Brentin Mock
November 30, 2007
There's no doubt that the tone of the raging national debate over immigration is growing uglier
by the day. Once limited to hard-core white supremacists and a handful of border-state extremists, vicious public denunciations
of undocumented brown-skinned immigrants are increasingly common among supposedly mainstream anti-immigration activists, radio
hosts and politicians. While their dehumanizing rhetoric typically stops short of openly sanctioning bloodshed, much of it
implicitly encourages or even endorses violence by characterizing immigrants from Mexico and Central America as "invaders,"
"criminal aliens" and "cockroaches."
The results are no less tragic for being predictable: Although hate crime statistics are highly
unreliable, numbers that are available strongly suggest a marked upswing in racially motivated violence against all Latinos,
regardless of immigration status. According to hate crime statistics published annually by the FBI, anti-Latino hate crimes
rose by almost 35% between 2003 and 2006, the latest year for which statistics are available. In California, the state with the largest population of Latinos in the country, anti-Latino
hate crimes almost doubled in the same period.
What follows is a representative sampling of some of the more egregious examples of physical
and psychological violence waged against Latinos over the past two-and-a-half years. The perpetrators range from racist skinheads
to rogue Border Patrol agents to otherwise everyday citizens who took it upon themselves to repel an "invader," terrorize
a "criminal alien," or exterminate a "cockroach."
JAN. 9, 2004
a Cuban-born regional manager for Del Monte Fresh Produce, is gunned down by two Missouri residents — 16-year-old Joshua
Aston and his 24-year-old cousin Justin Harrison — who traveled with Aston's younger brother, 15-year-old Nicholas Aston,
to a remote section of southern Arizona with the specific intent of randomly killing Mexicans. The brothers shaved their heads
before embarking on their odyssey. Corzo was ambushed after he stopped at a roadblock the group constructed from boulders.
Joshua Aston, the ringleader, is later tried as an adult and receives two life sentences for the murder. Harrison
also is sentenced to life. Charges are eventually dropped against the younger Aston brother.
DEC. 29, 2004
Two Latino men and
a Latina woman are beaten and kicked in the parking lot of a strip club by a "gang of about
10 skinheads," as later reported by the San Bernardino County
Sun. The neo-Nazi skinheads yell racial slurs at their victims,
prompting the Redlands police chief to declare that hate crime
charges will be pursued if and when the perpetrators are caught.
MAY 7, 2005
A Mexican grocery store is vandalized
by five white men who shatter windows, damage a refrigerator and spray-paint neo-Nazi symbols, causing over $17,000 in damage.
Two men — Thomas Lovett and Jacob Reynolds — eventually plead guilty and are each sentenced to six months in prison.
FEB. 17, 2005
Osvaldo Aldrete-Dávila, who is unarmed and fleeing apprehension
on foot, is shot at 15 times by two U.S. Border Patrol agents, Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean. One bullet strikes Aldrete-Dávila
in the buttocks, severs his urethra and lodges in his groin. Though seriously wounded, he manages to escape into Mexico.
Though the border patrol officers
later find that the van driven by Aldrete-Dávila contained a shipment of marijuana, they are unaware of this fact when they
open fire. Ramos and Compean attempt to cover up their actions by cleaning up the spent shell casings and failing to report
the use of their firearms to their superiors, as required by Border Patrol regulations. The two agents also fail to report
the shooting in their incident reports. El Paso Border Patrol Sector Chief Luis Barker later testifies that Compean told Barker
that he and Ramos covered up the shooting because they "knew [they] were going to get in trouble."
After the shooting
comes to light a month later, Ramos and Compean are arrested and eventually convicted by a federal jury of felony assault
charges, discharging a firearm in a crime of violence, civil rights violations, and obstruction of justice. They're sentenced
to 11 and 12 years in prison, respectively.
Ramos and Compean will eventually be transformed by a major right-wing
misinformation campaign into high-profile martyrs of the anti-immigration movement. The agents, for their part, will remain
unrepentant. Ramos tells a Texas Monthly writer in 2007 that Aldrete-Dávila "got
what he deserved."
JULY 12, 2005
A 61-year-old Ecuadorean immigrant is
badly beaten by three white men as he pushes a shopping cart through the streets collecting cans. Before the attack, the man
was asked if he had a green card. "Then they started pummeling him," Suffolk County Hate Crimes Det. Robert Reecks tells reporters.
The man, whose name is not made public, suffers a broken eye socket and facial bruises.
JULY 15, 2005
Octavio Vivanco is riding his bike to
his restaurant job when Joshua Ramgoolam and James Schmidtberg chase him down and punch him in the face. About 15 minutes
later, Rosalino Novorrete is attacked by the same duo as he rides his bike to work, this time with a plastic baseball bat.
According to Monmouth County Prosecutor Luís Valentín, Vivanco and Novorette were attacked "solely because of their Latino
ethnicity." Ramgoolam later pleads guilty to second-degree bias intimidation, third-degree aggravated assault and third-degree
weapons possession for unlawful purposes. Schmidtberg is found guilty of the same charges, plus fourth-degree weapons possession.
Both are sentenced to five years in state prison.
SEPT. 30, 2005
immigrants — Mateo Gomez, his son José Luís Tías, Felipe Mauricio Esparza, Guadalupe Sanchez, Armando Perez Martínez
and Mauricío Florindo — are murdered, and at least five others are badly injured, when a group of African-American robbers
rampage through four trailer parks known for housing immigrant workers. The parks are also known for home invasions; over
20 homes there have been have been invaded in the months prior to the murders.
Three suspects — Jennifer Wilson,
Stacy Sims and Jamie Underwood — are arrested and charged with six counts of murder each. Sims and Underwood are also
charged with rape and aggravated assault. District Attorney Paul Bowden announces he will seek the death penalty.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation's Vernon Keenan tells CNN that the victims "are easy targets because they do not speak English.
They're undocumented workers. They keep cash on their persons [and] in their homes. And they are reluctant to report crimes
to law enforcement."
When Tifton's mayor Paul Johnson decides to display the Mexican flag over City Hall out of respect
and sympathy for the victims, callers to a local radio station bristle with anger and resentment.
OCT. 16, 2005
Six people are injured by three white
men who crash a private party with the intent of "beating up Mexicans," according to police. One of the assailants uses brass
knuckles after shouting racial epithets and "white pride."
MARCH 30, 2006
North Bergen, N.J.
After a series of pro-immigrant marches
and demonstrations bring out hundreds of thousands of immigrants and their supporters in cities across the country, an acerbic
neo-Nazi radio host makes an appeal for people to carry out the mass murder of any "illegal aliens" sighted.
you who think there's a peaceful solution to these invaders are wrong. We're going to have to start killing these people,"
Hal Turner writes on his website. "I advocate using extreme violence against illegal aliens. Clean your guns. Have plenty
of ammunition. Find out where the largest gathering of illegal aliens will be near you. Go to the area well in advance, scope
out several places to position yourself and then do what has to be done."
APRIL 3, 2006
One of the founding members of the Minuteman
movement, Laine Lawless, exhorts the leadership of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement (NSM) to launch a campaign of
violence and intimidation against Latino immigrants. "Steal the money from any illegal walking into a bank or check cashing
place. … Discourage Spanish-speaking children from going to school," Lawless writes in a private E-mail to Mark Martin,
"SS commander" of the NSM"s western Ohio chapter. "Be creative. … Create an anonymous propaganda campaign warning that
any further illegal immigrants will be shot, maimed or seriously messed-up upon crossing the border."
every illegal alien feel the heat of being a person without status."
APRIL 22, 2006
David Ritcheson, 16, is attacked by racist skinheads at a house party after supposedly trying
to kiss a white girl. David Henry Tuck breaks Ritcheson's jaw, knocking him unconscious, while screaming, "White power!" and
calling Ritcheson a "spic" and "wetback." Keith Robert Turner joins in, and the two attackers burn Ritcheson with cigarettes,
kick him with steel-toed boots, attempt to carve a swastika into his chest, pour bleach on him and finally violently sodomize
him with a patio umbrella pole. It takes 30 surgeries before Ritcheson, confined to a wheelchair and wearing a colostomy bag,
is able to return to school.
Tuck is later sentenced to life in prison. Turner gets 90 years.
A year after the
attack, Ritcheson, who up to that point has not been identified in press accounts by name, goes public and speaks out to the
U.S. House of Representative's Judiciary Committee. In wrenching testimony, the boy recalls the horrific experience for lawmakers
deliberating over strengthening federal hate crime laws. "With my humiliation and emotional and physical scars came the ambition
and strong sense of determination that brought out the natural fighter in me," Ritcheson testifies. "I am glad to tell you
today that my best days still lay ahead of me."
Less than three months later, the teenager commits suicide, jumping
from a cruise ship into the Gulf of Mexico. Before his death, he assisted the Anti-Defamation
League in creating an anti-hate program at his alma mater, Klein
Collins High School.
APRIL 28, 2006
Salt Lake City, Utah
A West High
School student identified only as Felipe is attacked while walking to school by two white men who he says call him a "stupid
wetback" and tell him, "Go back to your country, you don't belong here." He survives the jumping with a black eye, cut lip
and head swelling, reports the Deseret Morning News. The boy is not a documented
citizen, according to his mother, who tells reporters, "The fact that you're an immigrant here doesn't mean they get to do
APRIL 29, 2006
East Hampton, N.Y.
Three Latino teenagers are lured into
a shed by a neo-Nazi skinhead (also a teenager) and then threatened and terrorized with a chainsaw and a machete. The victims
are held for 90 minutes while the skinhead and his friends yell racial slurs, including "White power!" and "Heil Hitler!"
is how you run across the border," one of the skinheads shouts as he chases the Latino youths around with the running chainsaw.
The skinhead is later charged as a juvenile with reckless endangerment and menacing.
MAY 4, 2006
Southampton Village, N.Y.
Jonathan Cedillo is having
lunch near a 7-Eleven when cab driver Robert Rossetti slaps his sandwich from his hand and then begins calling him derogatory
racial names. Rosetti then begins ramming into Cedillo, who has American Indian and Mexican ancestry, with his taxi. Cedillo's
right knee is injured. "He was cursing at me, telling me I'm an immigrant and to get out of this country," Cedillo tells reporters.
Rossetti is later convicted of misdemeanor aggravated harassment.
JUNE 12, 2006
Rocky Point, N.Y.
men fishing at a jetty are asked for their green cards, and then beaten and robbed by four teens — William Foley, Nicholas
Provenzano, Daniel Sturgis and Jesse Ward — posing as federal agents. The teens rob money from the victims while accusing
them of stealing jobs from U.S. citizens.
All four are charged with felony robbery and assault as hate crimes. Sturgis eventually pleads guilty to third-degree assault
as a hate crime and second-degree robbery and is sentenced to two years in state prison. Provenzano is convicted of charges
related to the attack, but his sentencing is deferred. Foley and Ward are charged as juvenile offenders.
JUNE 15, 2006
Miguel Vega, a native of Peru, is walking down the street where he lives when he's attacked and murdered
by five men who also steal his wallet. The killers — Abraham Ghaly, David Bendezu, Alexander Mitchell, Joel Lopez and
Rodolfo Ponciano — are charged with murder and robbery. Bendezu, Mitchell, and Lopez have their murder charges upgraded
to hate crimes after an investigation finds that they specifically sought a Mexican to rob that night. All five plead guilty
and are sentenced to between five and 15 years.
JULY 20, 2006
Gilberto Mejía, owner
of the Mexican grocery store Carnicería Los Primos, is verbally assaulted by anti-immigration activist June Griffin, who barges
into the store and tears down a Mexican flag. Griffin then
allegedly harasses Mejía and leaves threatening phone messages, which Mejia saves for police.
"It was an act of war,"
says Griffin, who has unsuccessfully run for the U.S. House
of Representatives as a Republican. Charged with civil rights intimidation, phone harassment, theft and vandalism, Griffin is released after witnesses fail to turn up at a court hearing.
not ashamed of anything I did," Griffin tells The Herald-News.
JULY 25, 2006
The windows of six businesses owned
by Guatemalans or Mexicans are shot out early in the morning, while white-owned businesses on the same street in this northern
Alabama town of 17,000 go untouched. A year later, the crime
is still unsolved. Albertville police say the attack wasn't
racially motivated, although many observers, pointing to which businesses were targeted, suspect otherwise. "We have sporadic,
random incidences of windows shot out," says Chief Detective J.T. Cartee.
JULY 30, 2006
Jordan Gruver, a 16-year-old boy of Panamanian descent, is attacked by members of the Imperial
Klans of America who are recruiting for the IKA at the Meade County Fairgrounds. Unprovoked, the Klansmen call the far smaller
Gruver a "spic," then beat him severely, leaving Gruver with two cracked ribs, a broken left forearm and jaw injuries requiring
extensive dental repair. Two Klansmen, Jarred R. Hensley, 24, and Andrew R. Watkins, 26, plead guilty to second-degree assault
and are each sentenced to three years in prison. The Southern Poverty Law Center files a lawsuit against the attackers that
is later amended to add IKA, its national leader Ron Edwards, and another high-ranking IKA official.
AUG. 20, 2006
Two men, one from El Salvador and the other described by St. Charles Parish sheriff's deputies as "Hispanic,"
are shot in the legs by Mark Gautreau as they fish in a floodway near Lake Pontchartrain.
Witnesses say Gautreau announced he was going to "shoot some Mexicans" before breaking into his own truck (he had locked himself
out) to pull out a shotgun and fire at the anglers, who are 500 feet away. Gautreau is booked on two counts of first-degree
attempted murder as a hate crime. The case is later dismissed when the victims and witnesses fail to appear for court.
SEPT. 9, 2006
A cross is burned on the front lawn of
Nelson Espinoza's house in this Louisville suburb next to
a sign reading, "My country maybe, my neighborhood NO WAY!!!" Espinoza, a native of El Salvador,
lives with his wife in the United States
as part of a legal temporary worker program. Almost a year later, the investigation remains open. "We suspect it was probably
just kids from the neighborhood," says Warren County Sheriff's Deputy Daniel Alexander.
SEPT. 10, 2006
Carlos Rivera, a construction worker from Honduras, is stabbed multiple times outside a bar by Thomas Nicotra and Kenneth
Porter, who yell racial epithets during the attack. Nicotra and Porter, who witnesses say also yelled racial slurs at other
patrons a night earlier, are both charged with felony robbery and assault with hate crime enhancements. Porter is sentenced
to one year in Suffolk County Jail for first-degree assault after testifying against Nicotra. Nicotra is sentenced to nine
years in state prison after finally pleading guilty to first-degree assault and robbery.
SEPT. 17, 2006
Laguna Beach, Calif.
A truck driven by two men reportedly
hits two Latino workers at a day labor center, and one of the workers is also assaulted. The men in the truck, Artem Soloviev
and Dennis Katpilniy, came to the center offering work, but Soloviev ends up in a scuffle with the workers, apparently after
they decline his terms. Although witnesses say Soloviev and Katpilniy shouted racial epithets at the workers during the fight,
no charges are filed and Soloviev and Katpilniy are released. "We investigated it top to bottom, having collected third-party
and the actual defendants' statements, but we did not have enough evidence to support the case," Susan Schroeder, of the Orange County's District
Attorney's office, says later.
OCT. 23, 2006
Hose Aldana and Wilfredo Rodriguez are
stabbed and called ethnic slurs by two white men in a pickup truck, according to police. But county police officer Sara Schriver
tells local newspapers that since Latinos are technically classified as white, the attack wasn't racially motivated.
crazy," retorts Angela Arboleda, director of criminal justice policy for the National Council of La Raza. "The [victims were]
called names and slurs that were derogative to [their] race. That is the most clear-cut evidence that that crime was in fact
a hate crime."
NOV. 18, 2006
San Diego, Calif.
Latino workers Estanislao Gonzales
and Robert Peña are allegedly assaulted by San Diego Minuteman John Monti at the Rancho Peñasquitos day labor center during
a Minuteman surveillance operation. Prosecutors say Monti started the fight after grabbing one of the laborers and chasing
him into the street. But jurors later acquit Monti of three counts of battery and one count of filing a false police report.
JAN. 12, 2007
Javier Dominguez-Rivera, a construction worker from Mexico, is shot dead at close range while on his knees by Border Patrol agent Nicholas
Corbett. Corbett claims he fired in self-defense from the front of his vehicle when Dominguez-Rivera picked up a rock, but
surveillance footage shows Corbett confronting Dominguez-Rivera at the rear of his vehicle. In addition, autopsy reports show
the bullet was fired from between three inches and 2 1/2 feet away, and that it entered below Dominguez-Rivera's armpit and
traveled down through his heart, stomach and liver into his lower abdomen.
Dominguez-Rivera was crossing the border
with his two brothers and sister-and-law when Corbett apprehended them. The group's eyewitness accounts match the results
of the forensic investigation and medical examiner's conclusions. As a result, Corbett is charged with second-degree murder,
manslaughter and negligent homicide. Cochise County Attorney Edward Rheinheimer tells reporters: "The evidence shows that
at the time he was shot, Mr. Dominguez-Rivera presented no threat to Agent Corbett."
FEB. 7, 2007
Richard Serafin, who has identified himself
as "commanding officer" of a unit of the "Central Wyoming Militia," is arrested after illegally selling a short-barreled AR-15
semiautomatic rifle to an undercover ATF agent. Earlier, he told the agent that he planned to travel to the Arizona border to harm immigrants and boasted that "there may be fewer illegal Mexicans"
after his trip. Serafin pleads guilty to possessing two illegal firearms — two of the short-barrel AR-15s — and
is later convicted in federal court of possessing firearms to further a crime of violence. He faces a minimum of five years
in prison and up to $500,000 in fines.
FEB. 23, 2007
Wright City, Mo.
A Latino immigrant is attacked and robbed
by three men yelling, "Immigration enforcement!" who barge into his mobile home armed with a piece of lumber. The immigrant
suffers injuries to his right eye and nose. Ryan Scott Harlan, 18, eventually pleads guilty to first-degree burglary and second-degree
assault and is sentenced to 15 years in prison. Richard Bryant Lindaman, 17, pleads guilty to the same charges and is sentenced
to eight years. The third suspect, Christopher Michael Skelton, is still awaiting trial at press time.
APRIL 18, 2007
James Wesley Cheek submits a comment to the Arizona Daily Sun threatening to attack a Cinco de Mayo event in a manner similar to the
Virginia Tech University rampage just a few days earlier that left 32 people dead. FBI agents arrest
Cheek for sending a threatening interstate communication and find that Cheek possesses a collection of firearms and has distributed
fliers for the Ku Klux Klan. If convicted, Cheek faces a maximum sentence of five years and up to a $250,000 fine.
MAY 1, 2007
Tyler Froatz Jr., a member of the Herndon (Va.)
Minutemen, is arrested after a physical confrontation with human rights activists at a rally. When apprehended by police,
he has several knives, a flare gun and a stun gun, and police find a loaded rifle in his vehicle. Days later, investigators
search Froatz's apartment and find an additional 15 guns, a Molotov cocktail, a grenade and large amounts of ammunition. Initially
jailed on weapons and assault charges, Froatz, 24, is released to his parents in New
Jersey a month later to await trial.
MAY 4, 2007
day-labor center for Latino immigrant workers is set on fire, causing about $2,000 in damage. The center is run by Casa de
Maryland, an immigrant assistance organization that has been the subject of many protests and threats. Without any evidence
or rationale to support his allegation, Brad Botwin, director of an anti-immigration group called Help Save Maryland, tells
The Washington Post that the laborers may themselves have started the fire.
MAY 10, 2007
Frankie Bowman, who in 2005 launched an
unsuccessful petition drive to prevent a Mexican nightclub from moving into his neighborhood, is arrested for offering an
undercover Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent $2,500 to burn down Mexico de Noche. Bowan, 52, allegedly told the agent
he didn't care whether the building was empty or occupied when the fire was set. He faces trial on charges of solicitation
to commit aggravated arson.
Mountain Minuteman founder Robert Crooks E-mails a video to several prominent anti-immigration
activists that appears to shows a Minuteman tracking a group of Mexicans through a gun's night vision scope. In the video,
an unidentified man can be heard calling the Mexicans "cockroaches" and then firing off a shotgun. "This video shows how to
keep a Home Depot parking lot empty," Crooks writes in his cover E-mail, snidely suggesting that recipients know how to "Talk
the Talk" but not "Walk the Walk" of effectively fighting illegal immigration. A few days later, a very similar night-vision
video surfaces, this one purporting to show a Minuteman hitting a lone Mexican with a sniper shot. Crooks, who initially denies
making the videos but then admits it, later says the second video was faked. Although state and federal law enforcement officials
look into the incident, no victims are found.
AUG. 8, 2007
Garden Grove, Calif.
Felipe Alvarado, an immigrant working
as a janitor at a fast-food restaurant, is taunted with racist threats and then attacked by three men, one of whom is carrying
a loaded gun. James Joseph Kelly, Justin Louis Mullins and Cheyne Danica Wilson are arrested and charged with felony assault
with hate crime enhancements for allegedly beating Alvarado after yelling, among other things, "Go back to Mexico, you wetback!"
Wilson is also charged with illegally possessing a handgun.
AUG. 12, 2007
A Latino man
is struck in the face several times after getting into a hostile exchange of words outside a convenience store with a group
of white men and women who later tell police that they are affiliated with Aryan Nations, a neo-Nazi hate group. The victim,
who has not been identified publicly, fled but is attacked a second time later the same night by several assailants who beat,
stomp and cut him. The alleged leader of the attacks, Stephen Ray Chapman, is arrested and charged with engaging in organized
criminal activity and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The police continue to search for five other suspects.
AUG. 23, 2007
Montgomery County, Md.
a Honduran immigrant dishwasher, is walking home from work when he is kicked into unconsciousness by teenagers who rob him
of $160. The two teens arrested tell police they were "amigo shopping" — seeking vulnerable Hispanic workers to rob.
The Washington Post reports "alarmingly common" anti-immigrant crimes in the area
of Washington, D.C., and its Virginia suburbs. Police from Montgomery County,
Md., and neighboring counties tell the newspaper that the majority of local robbery
victims since 2006 have been Latino.
SEPT. 30, 2007
Avon Park, Fla.
José Gonzales returns home to find his
car and garage destroyed by a fire set by an arsonist who also spray-painted "Fuck Puerto Rico" on the garage walls. Gonzales,
a U.S. citizen and a mechanic, loses all
of his tools in the fire. No arrests are made in the town, which is famous for its passage of harsh anti-immigrant laws.
OCT. 8, 2007
Eduardo Garcia wakes
up to find his truck and his wife's car set ablaze. Two other cars are also vandalized and have the words "white power" and
a swastika spray-painted on them. No one is immediately arrested.