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Last fall, the Maryland State Police issued a report finding Anne Arundel County had the greatest number of hate crimes and bias incidents in the state of Maryland. In response, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman helped organize a Forum at Anne Arundel Community College to begin a community conversation on how we can combat the hate. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to serve on the second panel at the Forum, providing the Latino community perspective. I hope that my remarks gave the audience some insights as to how Latinos in Anne Arundel County feel. I also hope that it served as a reminder about the positive impact that immigration has had on our economy historically. Following are my remarks.

My name is Roberto Veloso. I’m an attorney in Annapolis and a Board Member of the Center of Help, a non-profit that helps Latinos and other recent immigrants, learn how to overcome challenges posed by language barriers and cultural differences. I am also an immigrant myself who came to this country from Cuba when I was seven years old. Based on my personal experience as an immigrant and my Pro Bono work at the Center of Help, I can tell you that hate crimes and bias incidents exacerbate the already existing climate of fear in the Latino community.

In my view, what sparks the hate against the Hispanic community is the anti-immigrant and anti-Latino rhetoric that pervades discussions of immigration issues. This toxic language is used as a weapon against Latinos in our neighborhoods, our workplaces and most disturbingly in our schools. The Washington Post recently reported on the increase in bullying incidents, more than half of which target Hispanics, in which kids mimic the president’s inflammatory language.

In one of the more shocking cases reported by the Washington Post, a 13 year old’s taunts to a Mexican American schoolmate inspired by chants of “Build that wall!” escalated into a beating of the Mexican American boy and his mother that left the mother unconscious. My greatest fear is that the anger and hate being unleashed at Latinos will result in another mass shooting in the County. Just last year a white nationalist, intent on shooting as many Mexicans as possible, killed 22 people and injured 24 more at the Walmart in El Paso. If it can happen in El Paso, who’s to say it can’t happen in Annapolis, Laurel, Severn or Glen Burnie?

The 2018 Maryland State Police Hate Bias Report only identified one inconclusive incident of a hate crime or bias incident involving a Hispanic person in the County. However, in light of the fact that the Latino community in the County has grown exponentially from nearly 13,000 residents in 20-10 to well over 42,000 residents today, I and other members of my community suspect there have been other incidents of violence, bullying, intimidation and discrimination that have never been reported. I fear that my community’s reluctance to report these incidents emboldens individuals that think they can get away with attacking Latinos because they will not complain to the police.

This reluctance is not unreasonable when you consider that any time that we complain about being victimized or being mistreated because of being Hispanic, we run the risk of someone contacting immigration authorities, and being detained, regardless of our legal status. According to an investigative report by the LA Times, ICE Agents wrongfully arrest U.S. citizens an average of almost 250 times per year. The news is full of stories regarding these wrongful arrests, not only of individuals who were foreign born but here legally but also of native born Latino citizens and Hispanic veterans. I am so concerned that ICE could wrongfully arrest me, that I always carry my U.S. Passport Card with me so I can prove that I am a citizen. If a white, Latino lawyer, with no accent is afraid, can you imagine how a brown skinned person speaking with a strong accent might feel?

Unless and until local government, law enforcement, schools and community groups devote more time and effort at educating county residents that Latinos and immigrants are not a drag on our economy but rather can be the fuel that drives our economic growth, and that we’re not here to replace American culture but merely to become a part of it, hate crimes and bias incidents against immigrants and Latinos will not stop. In the meantime, it is imperative that all the groups that are represented here tonight forge stronger ties, because the only way we can defeat hate is if we stand to oppose it and fight it together.

An article covering the event was published in The Capital Gazette: ‘This is just the beginning’: Anne Arundel leaders hold first forum on hate crimes and bias incidents.

Copyright © Roberto Veloso, Attorney at Law. All rights reserved.