UPDATED: Anti-Immigrant Tragedy in Pennsylvania

UPDATE: MALDEF President and General Counsel John Trasviña has sent a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey requesting that the Department of Justice "initiate an investigation into the death of Luis Ramirez to determine if his murder was motivated by bias." Click here to read the letter.

It is important for the American public to understand that the current anti-immigrant sentiment spreading across the country doesn’t simply cause discomfort to those who “look illegal,” but can have serious and tragic consequences. In Shenandoah, Pennsylvania:
Luis Ramirez came to the U.S. from Mexico six years ago to look for work, landing in this town in Pennsylvania's coal region. Here, he found steady employment, fathered two children and, his fiancee said, occasionally endured harassment by white residents.

Now he is headed back to Mexico in a coffin.

The 25-year-old illegal immigrant was beaten over the weekend after an argument with a group of youths, including at least some players on the town's beloved high school football team, police said. And despite witness reports that the attackers yelled ethnic slurs, authorities say the beating wasn't racially motivated. . .

Crystal Dillman, the victim's 24-year-old fiancee, who is white and grew up here, said Ramirez was often called derogatory names, including "dirty Mexican," and told to return to his homeland.1
Some local officials have attempted to explain the incident as a "street fight that went wrong,"2 suggesting the victim himself might have provoked the attack.  But initial reports don't support that suggestion:
Garcia said she and her husband, Victor Garcia-Cruz, 21, dropped Ramirez off near Vine Street Park just before the incident.

"He was with us all day," Garcia said. "He told us to drop him off there and he would walk the rest of the way home. He didn't want us to waste gas."

Garcia said the two were on their way home when Ramirez called her on his cell phone.

"He told us to come back that a group of kids were yelling things at him and following him," Garcia said.3
One important characteristic of hate crimes is that the crime is often intended to send a message to the rest of the community.  In this case, the message was that the presence of Mexicans in Shenandoah was not welcome.
Retired Philadelphia police Officer Eileen Burke, who lives on the street where the fight occurred, told The Associated Press she heard a youth scream at one of Ramirez's friends after the beating to tell her Mexican friends to get out of Shenandoah, "or you're going to be laying next to him."4
Tragedies such as these remind us of a recent statement made by Stacy Burdett of the Anti-Defamation League:
[W]hen people all over the country are trained to think of immigrants as “invading” our way of life, trying to rip apart our civilization, and undermine our values; when we’re trained to think of them as a little bit less than, less deserving of rights, less human, animal-like, almost . . . good people will be inculcated to hate. And the suggestion is not that implicit, that maybe communities should take matters into their own hands.5
1. Michael Rubinkam, “Immigrant's beating death exposes tensions in Pa.”, The Associated Press, July 19, 2008
2. Id.
3. Frank Andruscavage & Leslie Richardson, "Shenandoah beating victim dies," Republican Herald, July 15, 2008
4. Rubinkam, supra note 1
5. Stacy Burdett, “Codewords of Hate,” NCLR & ADL, posted June 25, 2008

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund