Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY, May 16, 2006
WASHINGTON — Tension over illegal immigration is contributing to a rise in hate groups and hate crimes across the nation, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. It says that racist groups are using the immigration debate as a rallying cry.
The center — an Alabama-based non-profit organization that tracks racist, anti-immigrant and other extremist groups — says in a new report that there were 803 such hate groups in the USA last year, up from 762 in 2004 and a 33% jump since 2000.
The center’s report says the national debate that has focused on Hispanic immigration has been “the single most important factor” in spurring activity among hate groups and has given them “an issue with real resonance.”
The debate over immigration “has been critical to the growth of the hate movement,” says Mark Potok, editor of the center’s quarterly report on extremists. “More and more groups are turning to immigration to help recruitment.”
Potok says the center has seen increasing signs that groups that have encouraged a particularly aggressive response to illegal immigration are working with neo-Nazi organizations to try to intimidate illegal immigrants.
He cites groups such as Arizona-based Border Guardians, whose members burned a Mexican flag last month in front of that nation’s consulate in Tucson.