Report: Low-Income Latinos in South Targeted for Abuse, Discrimination

  Low-income Latino immigrants in the South are routinely the targets of wage theft, racial profiling and other abuses driven by an anti-immigrant climate that harms all Latinos regardless of their immigration status, according to a report released today by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The report — Under Siege: Life for Low-Income Latinos in the South — documents the experiences of Latino immigrants who face increasing hostility as they fill low-wage jobs in Southern states that had few Latino residents until recent years.

"This report documents the human toll of failed policies that relegate millions of people to an underground economy, where they are beyond the protection of the law," said Mary Bauer, author of the report and director of the SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project. "Workplace abuses and racial profiling are rampant in the South."

Under Siege is based on a survey of 500 low-income Latinos — including legal residents, undocumented immigrants and U.S. citizens — at five locations in the South. The locations were Nashville, Charlotte, New Orleans, rural southern Georgia, and several towns and cities in northern Alabama.

The survey findings, coupled with accounts from in-depth interviews, depict a region where Latinos are routinely cheated out of wages by employers and denied basic health and safety protections. They are racially profiled by overzealous law enforcement agents and victimized by criminals who know they are reluctant to report crime to these same authorities. Even legal residents and U.S. citizens of Latino descent said racial profiling, bigotry and other forms of discrimination are staples of their daily lives.

A number of immigrants in the survey described the South as a "war zone."

"The assumption is that every Latino possibly is undocumented," Angeles Ortega-Moore, an immigrant advocate in North Carolina, told SPLC researchers. "So it [discrimination] has spread over into the legal population."

Maria, who came to Tennessee from Colombia, told SPLC researchers her immigration papers are in order, but she is still afraid of being stopped by the police. "You never know when you will come across a racist police officer," she says in the report.

Discrimination against Latinos in the region constitutes a civil rights crisis that must be addressed, the SPLC report says. The report concludes that comprehensive immigration reform — including a workable path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants — is the only realistic, fair and humane solution.

Reform legislation must be coupled with strong enforcement of labor and civil rights protections. This would make crime victims and communities safer, curb racial profiling and other abuses, and better protect the wages and working conditions of all workers, according to the report.

"We’re talking about a matter of basic human rights here," said SPLC President Richard Cohen. "By allowing this cycle of abuse and discrimination to continue, we’re creating an underclass of people who are invisible to justice and undermining our country’s fundamental ideals."