Latinos’ Deaths Prompt Calls for Hate Crimes Law

AP, December 17, 2008

Lawmakers and Hispanic groups on Tuesday denounced the beating death of an Ecuadorean immigrant, saying his and other recent slayings of Latino immigrants lend new urgency to the need for a federal hate crimes law.

During a news conference, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., named three immigrants he said were killed “simply because of who they were.”

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Latino leaders said considering what appeared to be rising anti-Latino sentiment, Congress should pass legislation to expand the federal hate crimes law. The bill, known as the Matthew Shepard Act, would add protections for bias crimes motivated by gender, sexual orientation and disabilities, and expand Justice Department’s investigative powers.

Current law limits federal investigation of hate crimes to when a federally protected activity is occurring, such as voting. But that restriction would be lifted under the proposal.

The bill also would give local officials resources to investigate hate crimes.

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“We have seen that a culture of fear, hate and xenophobia, ultimately leads to a crime of violence,” said Schumer, who helped sponsor the law that required the government to keep hate crime statistics.

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“One of the most important things the hate crimes bill would do would be to bring out the power of the Department of Justice to this effort. Currently most of these crimes are treated as local crimes,” Trasvina [John Trasvina, chairman of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda] said.

Schumer said he would join Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., to push for passage of the bill in the next Congress. President-elect Barack Obama also is likely to support passage of the bill.

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