United States

Six months of hate: how anti-immigrant sentiment is affecting Latinos in the United States

Since the presidential election, Univision has received nearly 200 reports of hate and bias perpetrated against our readers and viewers, who have been the victims of racist slurs and harassment, intimidation, vandalism and even assault.
14 Jun 2017 – 3:27 PM EDT

Marvin del Cid wakes up to find the words "fu**ing Mexicans, get out" spray painted on the side of his trailer.

Dreamers Justino Mora, Iván Ceja and Belen Sisa endure weeks of threatening messages — and even death threats — online after posting on social media about being undocumented.

Kids plead with their parents not to send them to school after chants of "build the wall."

In recent months, hate incidents and hate crimes have targeted Latinos around the country, in small towns and big cities, coast-to-coast. Though the weeks immediately before and after the presidential election saw the most reports, incidents have continued at a steady tick.

Since the presidential election, Univision has received nearly 200 reports of hate and bias perpetrated against our readers and viewers, sent to us through the Documenting Hate project (' El reporte del odio'). From those reports, we have interviewed dozens of Latinos who have been the victims of racist slurs and harassment, intimidation, vandalism and even assault.

Here are some of the trends we've observed:

"Go back to your country"

"Send them back to their own f**king country," a woman is heard saying in the direction of a Hispanic family in a video recorded earlier this month at a Sears in New Jersey. According to onlookers, the woman grew angry after the family used coupons and delayed the checkout line.

In a climate of xenophobia, in which immigrants are often characterized as being the source of the country’s problems, calls to "go back to your country" have been among the insults most commonly reported by Univision’s audience.

On a Saturday morning in February, Carlos Hernandez was at an outdoor flea market in Middletown, Pennsylvania, where he sells mobile phone accessories, when a customer approached him and lashed out with racist insults and threats. "He said to me … 'you need to go back to your country,' "you shouldn’t be here,'" Hernandez, 39 and a legal resident, told Univision.

"I felt really bad," Hernandez told us. "I felt destroyed inside."

Many of those who have been targeted in this way are actually American-born.

"Speak English"

On February 15, Ana Martinez, 46, returned a call from an unknown number. She reached a collections agency, and an automated message explaining she had an open case against her. Anxious to learn more, she requested to speak to a customer service agent in Spanish, her native language. The agent angrily told her no one was available to speak in Spanish.

"He said 'I tell you what, go to school to learn English and when you speak English call us back or go ahead and get back to your country,'" Martinez told us, holding back tears.

That's just one of more than a dozen reports we have received from people berated for speaking Spanish in public in recent months.

"One day I went shopping with my kids and we were speaking in Spanish," wrote one woman from Sterling, Virginia. "A woman began to yell at us 'here only English' and 'go back to your country.'"

Rocío Inclán, director of the Human & Civil Rights Department at the National Education Association, says the insult cuts deep for Latinos. "Language is about culture. It's about identification," she says. "We as a country really lose out when there is this reversal towards 'America first.' It incites the otherness in our country, so people think you're an other if you speak a language besides English - that you're not fully American."

Inclán, who lives in Washington, D.C., was recently targeted for speaking Spanish to her mom on the phone. "I was in Whole Foods, in a very liberal area of Washington, speaking to my mom who is in Mexico," she says. "An older white woman comes up to me and says 'this is America, you need to speak English.'"

The internet is a meeting place for hate groups -- and a constant source of threats and insults

"Piece of s**t."

"I hope a death squad comes for you."

"Hope they send your nasty wetback ass back home, you nasty cunt."

These are some of the messages that immigration activists Justino Mora, Iván Ceja and Belén Sisa received on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook after the presidential election.

They say people feel emboldened by President Trump’s anti-immigrant messaging.

Experts say social media engagement by hate groups is on the rise, with most activity focused on anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment. The anti-semitic internet, led by sites like The Daily Stormer, is even expanding into Spanish.

Undocumented immigrants who are open about their immigration status are increasingly threatened online.

In March, Sisa, a 23-year-old Argentine recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), wanted to prove that she pays taxes despite being undocumented. So she posted a photo on Facebook with her 1040 tax form, noting that she paid $300 in taxes.

After her post was shared on social media dozens of people threatened to send her information to immigration authorities, she told us.

"I have reported you to [immigration] and screenshotted your posts where you identified yourself as an illegal alien," someone wrote.

Threads on the forums 4chan and Reddit also encourage users to seek out immigrants that are posting about being undocumented online — such as through the Twitter hashtag “undocumented and unafraid" — and denounce them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Kids targeted at school

Schools were a particularly common location for hate incidents during the 2016-17 school year. In the weeks after the election, over 10,000 K-12 teachers, counselors, administrators and others who work in schools indicated to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) that the election had a "profoundly negative impact" on their institutions and students.

The teachers described an increase in slurs and derogatory language, along with incidents involving swastikas, Nazi salutes and Confederate flags. Among respondents, 672 mentioned incidents involving the word "deportation," and 476 "build the wall."

In the weeks following the election, we received reports from a number of parents worried about anti-Latino rhetoric being directed at their children at school.

One November afternoon, Kate DeStefano-Torres’ son arrived home from school upset. The sixth-grader, whose father is Puerto Rican, had clashed with another student during free time, he told his mom.

At his school in Mantua Township, New Jersey, a girl in fifth grade told him, “No Mexicans allowed.” Then, pointing to a moveable wall in the all-purpose room, the girl said, “Trump built this wall. You’re outta here.”

Hate crimes against immigrants and undocumented people are underreported

A young, undocumented man contacted Documenting Hate to share the story of his assault on a California highway. A few days later, he changed his mind and was no longer willing to speak to us. "Many people have advised me not to go further because later I could get deported," he told us.

It’s just one example of why hate crimes against immigrant communities are vastly under-reported by victims and local law enforcement.

In its Hate Crime Statistics report, the F.B.I. cataloged a total of 5,818 hate crimes in 2015, including assaults, bombings, threats and property destruction against minorities, women, the LGBT community and others. That’s the most recent year for which data is available.

But the Department of Justice estimates that some 250,000 hate crimes are committed every year.

Why the discrepancy? The FBI relies on voluntary reports from local law enforcement agencies, thousands of which choose not to report their data. As a result, thousands of hate crimes are likely left off official records every year.

Many immigrants don't report hate crimes because of language barriers and mistrust of police.

Police around the country have reported that Trump's immigration dragnet has led to lower crime reporting, including reports of sexual assaults, due to fears among undocumented immigrants that they might be reported to authorities and deported.

Though many experts say the country is experiencing the most turbulent moment for race relations since September 11, 2001, we likely won’t have reliable enough statistics to truly understand the scope of the problem.

The experience of hate is traumatic

Although hate varies in intensity from insults to assault, incidents have led our readers to feel frightened, intimidated or depressed. Some say they no longer feel welcome in the United States.

"It’s unpleasant and demoralizes you, it causes psychological trauma," a cashier told us after a man asked her if she was "illegal."

"The only thing I can say is that at that moment you feel like a despicable and useless being with the desire to disappear from the planet for a few minutes," said one man who was told "Go back to your country."

Marvin del Cid told Univision in May that he's had trouble eating since his trailer was vandalized with racist slurs in February.

"I didn’t know how to respond," says Julio, who, along with his two young sons, was the butt of racist jokes in a Dallas donut shop earlier this month. “Now I feel humiliated. I don’t know what to say to my kids. I can’t do anything.”

In January, Maycon Martinez Cruz, a DACA beneficiary of Mexican origin, was attacked on the New York City subway while on his way home from working a shift at a restaurant in Lower Manhattan.

"If I could, I would leave the United States today, but I have nowhere to go," the young man told us three months after the incident. "When you are discriminated against, something in you changes."