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Press Conference, National Council of La Raza

Remarks by Michael Lieberman, ADL Washington Counsel

Good Morning.

Reasonable people can and will disagree about the parameters of Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

But make no mistake. There is a direct connection between the tenor of this political debate and the daily lives of immigrants in our communities.

It is no accident that, as some voices in the immigration debate have demonized immigrants as “invaders” who poison our communities with disease and criminality, haters have taken matters into their own hands.

ADL has documented a growing atmosphere of bigotry and xenophobia and a disturbing increase in the number of violent assaults against Hispanics, legal, and undocumented immigrants – and those perceived to be immigrants. Across the nation, the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis have exploited the immigration issue to advance their own agenda.

But we at ADL have also become increasingly concerned about the virulent anti-immigrant and anti-Latino rhetoric employed by a handful of groups and coalitions that have positioned themselves as legitimate, mainstream advocates against illegal immigration in America.

As previously mentioned, the FBI has documented that reported hate crimes against Latinos increased in 2007 for the fourth consecutive year.

The demonization of immigrants has led to an increased sense of fear in communities around the country and created a toxic environment in which hateful rhetoric targeting immigrants has become routine.

What should be done?

First, we need to remember that America is a nation of immigrants. Many of the groups before you today have come together to challenge state and local anti-immigrant laws and ordinances that have been a proxy for race and national origin discrimination. We need to make progress toward reform of our immigration and asylum laws with an appropriate balance of fairness, compassion, and national security awareness.

Second, public officials and the media must tone down the rhetoric in the immigration debate. It is impossible to overstate the importance of civic leaders and law enforcement officials speaking out against efforts to demonize immigrants – and using their bully pulpit to promote better intergroup relations.

Third, the incoming Congress and the Obama Administration should move quickly to pass the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crime Prevention Act, legislation that will permit the federal government to assist local authorities in investigating and prosecuting hate crimes.

Words have consequences. And we must use our words, our power of persuasion, our political clout, to condemn scapegoating, bias crimes, racism, and anti-Semitism and to press for fair and workable immigration reform.

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