January 28, 2009

Hispanic Illegal Immigrants Hit by Wave of Robberies in US

Agence France Presse, January 27, 2009

Tampa, FL (AFP) -- Thieves are increasingly targeting Hispanic illegal immigrants who are reluctant to report robberies to the police for fear of deportation, US activists and law enforcement agencies say.

The victims of the robberies in Florida and other Southern states are often farm workers paid in cash because they have no bank accounts due to a lack of official identification.

'Many robberies (of illegal immigrant workers) are committed but not reported,' said Cheryl Little, executive director for the Florida Immigration Advocacy Center.

'Because many of these workers originally come from countries where the police can't be trusted, they're reluctant to report the robberies,' she said.

The precise number of robberies against Hispanic immigrants 'will never be known (due to the fear of deportation),' Little told AFP.

But advocate groups and police departments are trying to spread the word that illegal immigrants will not face deportation if they report a crime.

'One of the things that we try to point out, when we go into local Hispanic communities to talk about this, is that if you're a victim of a crime, your deportation status doesn't matter,' said Elizabeth Watts, spokeswoman for the police department in Clearwater, Florida.

The city, which has a large number of Mexican immigrant workers, had 55 robberies in 2008 in which the victims were Hispanic males, according to Watts.

To combat the problem, authorities in Austin, Texas sought help from local banks to enable more immigrant workers to open up accounts.

'We went into partnership with a number of banks to help Hispanic immigrant workers to open bank accounts,' said Brian Miller of the Austin Police Department.

The problem has been exacerbated by a shortage of police patrols in Hispanic communities and a reluctance by immigration lawyers to take up cases, said Margarita Romo, Director of Farmworkers Self-Help Inc. in Florida.

There are an estimated 11.9 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, according to a recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center.

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