Mar 7, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Anti-immigrant rhetoric sparks fears of more hate crimes against Latinos

A wreath and photo honors 15-year-old victim Javier Amir Rodriguez at a temporary memorial honoring victims of the 2019 Walmart shooting which left 23 people dead in a racist attack targeting Latinos.

A wreath and photo honor 15-year-old Javier Amir Rodriguez at a temporary memorial to the victims of the 2019 Walmart shooting in which 23 people were killed in El Paso, Texas. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Latino activists and political leaders worry that increasingly harsh and racist rhetoric about immigrants — particularly by Donald Trump and his MAGA supporters — is fueling a surge in the already record-breaking number of hate crimes against Latinos.

Why it matters: The concerns are rising amid political campaigns targeting immigrants, a stalemate in Congress over plans to improve border security, and a projected backlog this year of 8 million asylum seekers and other immigrants seeking to stay in the U.S.

State of play: Anti-Latino hate crimes hit record highs in 2022 — the most recent year for which national stats are available — as the ongoing migrant crisis grew and there was growing acceptance of the once-fringe "white replacement theory" pushed by far-right media outlets.

  • In 2022, anti-Latino hate crimes ballooned to 738 — a 21% increase in two years. The FBI will release figures for 2023 later this year, but several cities have reported hate crimes jumped last year.

Zoom in: Trump repeatedly has said undocumented immigrants are "poisoning the blood of our country."

In a statement, Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung doubled down on the former president's focus on limiting migration.

  • "President Trump has highlighted the scourge of illegal immigration under Democrat rule and how (President) Biden's migrant crime has infected our communities with rampant crime and destruction," Cheung said.
  • A spokesman for Abbott did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Zoom out: U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) recently announced that the widow of a Mexican immigrant migrant killed in a suspected hate crime will be his guest at Thursday's State of the Union address.

  • Castro said he invited Priscilla Martinez of Forney, Texas, to bring attention to the case involving Aaron Martinez, a rancher who was killed in May 2023 by a neighbor who previously had harassed Martinez's family.
  • Castro blamed the killing on "years of irresponsible rhetoric" by Abbott, Trump and other politicians who "demonize immigrants, push racist conspiracy theories about Latinos, and incite right-wing violence."

Between the lines: An Axios review of data from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, found that since 2016 hate crimes against Latinos spiked during various news events involving them or after comments made by Trump.

  • For example, anti-Latino hate crimes skyrocketed by more than 50% in July 2018 from the previous month, at the height of the Trump administration's family separation policy at the border.

What they're saying: "We've seen a correlation between brazen, anti-Latino immigrant rhetoric and anti-Latino hate crimes in recent years," Brian Levin, the recently retired director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, tells Axios.

  • Levin said anti-Latino hate crimes also tend to rise when other groups are targeted or in the news, such as when Trump imposed a Muslim travel ban during his presidency.
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