Landmark Hate Crimes Prevention Legislation Clears U.S. Senate, Heads To President Obama’s Desk

Senate passes DoD Authorization Conference Report, includes hate crimes provision

October 22, 2009

Specifically, the law will enable U.S. Department of Justice lawyers to prosecute individuals who commit crimes motivated by certain forms of bias. Increased prosecution may stem from crimes motivated not only by a victim’s race, religion, or national origin, but also those motivated by a victim's sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. In addition, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act will dedicate more resources to the prevention and prosecution of hate crimes at the national, state, and local levels.

“The Shepard and Byrd Act is a much-needed step to deter the alarming rise in hate-motivated violence that is increasingly targeted at Latinos. This law will help to bring a measure of justice to victims and their families and deter or prevent the commission of these heinous crimes,” noted Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel.

MALDEF urges President Barack Obama to sign this important bill in order to increase justice for victims of hate crimes. The bill provides state and local law enforcement with the necessary assistance of federal authorities in hate crime investigations.

“This long-awaited legislation will guarantee that a person who is targeted because of his or her race, religion, or because he or she is gay, transgender, or disabled has some legal recourse for a bias-motivated assault or other crime,” stated Claudine Karasik, MALDEF Legislative Staff Attorney. “While this relief comes much too late for some victims, like Luis Ramirez and his family, MALDEF believes this law is a pathway for future hate crime victims to achieve the swift justice Mr. Ramirez did not.” In July 2008, Luis Ramirez, a Mexican immigrant, was brutally murdered in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania by a group of teenagers yelling ethnic slurs before, during, and after the attack.

MALDEF would like to thank Senator Harry Reid for his leadership on this issue and for shepherding this legislation through. Many lawmakers, law enforcement entities, lawyers, community groups, and concerned citizens worked diligently over recent years to effect this change in the law. MALDEF is proud to stand among such partners. President and General Counsel Saenz added, "MALDEF and the Latino community will continue to advocate for justice against perpetrators of hate crimes, as we look forward to one day ending this senseless violence that has no place in our American society".

For all media inquiries, please contact Laura Rodriguez.

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund