06/21/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hate Crimes Against Immigrants in a Post-Racial Society

Earlier this week jurors returned a guilty verdict in a trial on Long Island. The teenage defendant was convicted of manslaughter as a hate crime in the fatal stabbing of an Ecuadorean immigrant. Notwithstanding the guilty verdict, violence against individuals on account of their ethnicity and national origin remains a critical problem nationwide.

Shortly before midnight on November 8, 2008 Marcelo Lucero was surrounded then attacked by Jeffrey Conroy and six others in a parking lot in Suffolk County. During trial, the prosecutor alleged that Mr. Conroy and his friends often hunted for Hispanic men to assault - an activity they referred to as "Mexican hopping". Although he was acquitted of second degree murder as a hate crime, Mr. Conroy faces a minimum of eight years to a maximum of twenty-five years for the first degree manslaughter charges.

Bias crimes against immigrants are not new, nor are they restricted to Long Island. Several months ago, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund released a study titled, Confronting the New Faces of Hate: Hate Crimes in America (2009). According to the report, since the Hate Crime Statistics Act (HCSA) was enacted in 1990, the number of hate crimes reported has consistently ranged around 7,500 or more annually. However, the number of hate crimes committed against Hispanics and those perceived to be immigrants has increased each of the past for years for which FBI data is available.

On particular example cited in the report illustrates the ongoing crisis:

In July 2008, in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, Luis Ramirez, a 25 year-old Mexican and father of two, was murdered because of his ethnicity in a brutal beating allegedly by four teenagers who repeatedly punched him, knocked him to the ground, and then kicked him multiple times in the head. As Ramirez lay unconscious, convulsing and foaming in the mouth, one of the assailants reportedly yelled "Tell your fucking Mexican friends to get the fuck out of Shenandoah or you'll be fucking next to them." Fourteen months earlier, 20 miles from where Ramirez was murdered, Lou Dobbs had held a special "Broken Borders" town hall meeting edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight to spotlight and praise a neighboring small town's passage of an "illegal Immigrant Relief Act" that sought to suspend the business permits and licenses of employers who hired "unlawful workers" or landlords who rented to illegal aliens.

Additionally, as documented by the FBI's 2007 HCSA report, the number of of reported crimes directed against Hispanics increased - from 576 in 2006 to 595 in 2007 - for the fourth year in a row. And it certainly does not help matters any that victims of hate violence are least likely to report these crimes to law enforcement.

The debate over comprehensive immigration reform and the anti-immigrant rhetoric that permeates the media are two factors that have been linked to the spike in violence against Hispanics. But hopefully the verdict on Long Island will send the message that perpetrators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Arlene M. Roberts is the author of The Faces of Detention and Deportation: A Report on the Forced Repatriation of Immigrants from the English-speaking Caribbean.