New report finds Latinos in South frequently victims of abuses, discrimination

Posted by Erin Stock — Birmingham News April 21, 2009 12:53 PM

Children at Birmingham’sCentral Park Elementary School put on a celebration of Hispanic culture, shown in this 2008 file photo.

Poor Latinos in the South routinely experience wage theft, racial profiling, and other discrimination, a report released today from the Southern Poverty Law Center says.

The Montgomery, Alabama-based, civil rights nonprofit surveyed 500 Latinos in five communities, including more than 100 people in Alabama. Respondents included legal residents, illegal immigrants and U.S. citizens.

Findings include:

• Nearly 50 percent of respondents knew someone who had been treated unfairly by police.

• 77 percent of the women who responded said sexual harassment was a major workplace problem.

• 41 percent surveyed had not been paid for work, a figure that climbed to 80 percent in New Orleans.

• Two-thirds of respondents said they had been made to feel unwelcome by others in the community, while 68 percent said they encountered on a regular basis what they perceived as racism — from “looks” to physical abuse.

• 46 percent of those reporting a court experience said there was no interpreter.

The report, “Under Siege: Life for Low-Income Latinos in the South,” called north Alabama an example of how local laws erode Latinos’ trust in law enforcement.

In Alabama, 55 percent of respondents said there are police checkpoints where they live. Municipalities in the region have ordinances that allow law enforcement to impound vehicles when a driver cannot prove his or her legal status.

“Road blocks are set up in a way where particular communities are targeted so people feel like they can’t even leave the house,” said Mary Bauer, the director of SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project and the author of the report.

The report details cases that include police jailing a Tennessee mother when she asked to be paid for her work in a cheese factory, police in Alabama confiscating a migrant bean picker’s life savings during a traffic stop, and a rapist in Georgia going unpunished when the 13-year-old victim’s family was afraid to report the crime because she was in the country illegally.

“So long as we have this kind of large underclass living in the shadows, this kind of abuse will flourish,” Bauer said.

SPLC researchers in the state interviewed people in Hoover, Birmingham, Huntsville, Florence, Russellville and Albertville. They also surveyed people in Nashville, Charlotte, New Orleans and rural southern Georgia.


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