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Shocking: Today, Life in the South for Poor Latinos Is Pure Hell!

A new study finds that "legal" and "illegal", "citizen" and "resident," are distinctions without difference for poorer Latinos in today's Deep South.

According to a study released this week by the Southern Poverty Law Center, low-income Latinos in the American South are living in what one participant described as a "war zone."

The report was based on interviews with hundreds of poor Latinos -- U.S. citizens and legal and illegal immigrants alike. It paints a bleak picture of the routine abuses faced by those among a marginalized underclass. According to the authors, poor Latinos in the South "are routinely cheated out of their earnings and denied basic health and safety protections. They are regularly subjected to racial profiling and harassment by law enforcement. They are victimized by criminals who know they are reluctant to report attacks."

Eliseo Medina, Executive Vice President of SEIU, a union that organizes service workers with some of the least political clout in the American workforce, called the results of the study, "a remarkable indictment of the prejudice, racial profiling and outright abuse faced by hardworking Hispanics, some of our country’s most vulnerable workers."

According to the report:

This treatment — which many Latinos liken to the oppressive climate of racial subordination that blacks endured during the Jim Crow era — is encouraged by politicians and media figures who scapegoat immigrants and spread false propaganda. And as a result of relentless vilification in the media, Latinos are targeted for harassment by racist extremist groups, some of which are directly descended from the old guardians of white supremacy.

The authors add, "instead of acting to prohibit and eliminate systematic exploitation and discrimination against Latinos, state and local governments in much of the South have exacerbated the situation" through harsh local policies and over-the-top rhetoric about illegal immigration.

The interviews were conducted in Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama -- all states that have seen a marked increase in new immigrants since the 1990s. And the results are eye-opening. In New Orleans, 4 out of 5 low-income Latinos said they’d been ripped off by employers who hadn’t paid them for work they’d done; 40 percent of Georgia respondents reported being mistreated by police; over half of those interviewed in Alabama reported road blocks or routine traffic stops near their homes that "target Latinos and do not affect people of other ethnicities equally," and in Nashville, 6 in 10 reported housing discrimination and 7 in 10 said that workplace sexual harassment was a "serious problem."

Although this trend is inextricably linked to the immigration debate in this country, it is not about "illegal immigration" -- it’s about ethnicity and class. Latino doesn’t equal "immigrant," and it certainly doesn’t mean "illegal immigrant."

While a majority of new immigrants -- and around three in four illegal immigrants -- come from Latin America and the Caribbean, 60 percent of Latinos are U.S. citizens born in this country, and half of the remainder are migrants who have all their papers in order and every legal right to live and work here.

So while racial profiling is justified in the name of "upholding our laws," unauthorized immigrants make up less than 20 percent of the rapidly growing "Hispanic" population in the U.S. Moreover, while Mexico sends more immigrants to the U.S. than any other country, numbers 2-4 on the list are China, the Philippines and India. Immigrants -- legal and otherwise -- come from all over the globe.

Polls show that a majority of Americans are concerned about illegal immigration, and blanket accusations of racism and xenophobia are hurled around by many immigrant rights activists far too freely. But the kind of offenses detailed in the SPLC study shows that ethnicity plays a huge role in the lives of both Latino immigrants and low-income American workers of Hispanic descent.

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