Immigrant Agencies Feel Rise in Harassment

Perla Trevizo, Times Free Press (Chattanooga), February 4, 2008

Officials at local organizations that aid immigrants and refugees say they have experienced an increase in hate mail and threatening phone calls.

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Ms. Curtis said they started to receive phone calls, letters and e-mails last year from an individual who disagreed with their work on behalf of refugees. She said they had to call the police twice because they felt threatened by him.

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Chattanooga resident Rick Pinson, who said he doesn’t support bringing refugees to the United States, said he doesn’t believe “American soldiers who fought and died for this country did so it could be given away to people from other countries, and that taxpayers be required to pay for their welfare.”

America Gruner, president of the Coalition of Latino Leaders in Dalton, Ga., and Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, said they also have seen a spike in the number of hate e-mails and phone calls they receive.

Ms. Gruner said they have gotten several threatening phone calls since they started the organization in 2006, mostly from people telling them to go back to their country and accusing them of registering undocumented immigrants to vote.

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Mike Feely, a City Council member and director of the St. Andrew’s Center, a community outreach group, said better communication is needed.

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“A poisonous atmosphere has been developed and that’s why I think we would benefit from discussions in a place where people can come and talk about this (immigration) without being labeled,” he said.

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