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In climate of fear and bias, protecting our immigrants
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Opinion

In climate of fear and bias, protecting our immigrants

Evan Bernstein
Evan Bernstein

There have been a disturbing number of reported hate crimes and bias incidents across the country in the past year, many inspired by anti-immigrant rhetoric. The tri-state area, having a large population of Hispanic and Latino immigrants, has seen its fair share of scapegoating of immigrants, including those of Mexican heritage. Because of language barriers and a fear of law enforcement, many victims of hate crimes and bias attacks don’t know where to turn when they’ve been targeted. That’s why, for the past year, ADL has been working quietly and mostly behind the scenes with the Mexican government to help their diplomatic staff in this country work with victims to find redress with law enforcement and in the courts when they are victimized.

One year ago, ADL signed an agreement with the Mexican Foreign Ministry that established a special relationship aimed at assisting people of Mexican heritage who are victims of hate, bullying, and hate crimes. The Memorandum of Understanding was created with the mutual understanding of our shared values: to oppose hate and discrimination; to promote respectful and inclusive communities; and to protect the rights of every person. At this significant milestone in the partnership, which also coincides with National Hispanic Heritage Month, and against a backdrop of a continued climate of anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric and policies, we reflect on the progress we have made together and recommit to the work ahead in the coming year.

With 50 Mexican consulates around the U.S., sharing ADL’s resources that go toward fighting hate and bias in each community is made possible with groundwork through regional offices like ours here in New York and New Jersey. The first phase of our partnership has focused on deploying experts to train consular staff on how to identify, report, and react to hate crimes and incidents. We have provided multiple training sessions in Spanish to the Mexican consulate on subject areas like bullying and cyberbullying. As recently as last week, we presented an anti-bullying training to the Mexican “Consulate on Wheels,” a mobile consul team, providing them with the tools to best serve their communities in the tri-state area. These trainings serve as important proactive steps to address anti-immigrant sentiments that people of Mexican heritage are exposed to daily in New York, New Jersey, and all over the
country.

To better understand the Mexican community and their perspective regarding the challenges faced by immigrants in America, I joined Ambassador Diego Gómez Pickering, consul general of Mexico in New York, on a trip to Mexico in March of this year. In my meetings with government officials, university students, and members of the Jewish community living in Mexico, I not only had the opportunity to directly share ADL’s commitment to this partnership with them, but I also gained a deeper understanding of the needs and concerns of the people we are jointly working to help.

In recent weeks, this understanding has become ever more crucial as we have witnessed and responded to the escalation in hate targeting the Mexican community in New York. In late July, dozens of white supremacists blocked the entrance to the Mexican consulate in midtown Manhattan, holding signs reading “BUILD THE WALL” while shouting racist comments and distributing anti-immigrant leaflets. We stood together with our partners in the Mexican community to condemn this heinous act of xenophobia, and together we rallied with elected officials to denounce the white supremacist group after it distributed propaganda in Fort Tryon Park in Inwood.

Supporting our relationship with the Mexican consulate is critical to our work protecting all immigrants and partnering with other Latin American consulates and organizations that share our values of inclusivity and respect. As part of a coalition, we are working tirelessly to protect access to courthouses by immigrant victims and witnesses by keeping ICE from making civil arrests at courthouses without judicial warrants or court orders. We have also introduced consular staff to law enforcement officials, creating a direct line of communication that has resulted in greater cooperation in the investigation of hate crimes, including those that may otherwise have gone unreported.

As I look back on the work that our region has done to promote these values with our Mexican partners, I am inspired by what we have achieved together so far and the special bonds that have been forged, and I am also motivated by what we can achieve together in the next year of this relationship. Gómez Pickering has become more than a partner in standing together against hate, discrimination, and xenophobia — he has become a close friend of mine. Last week, I was honored to join him in celebrating the 208th anniversary of Mexican independence at the consulate in New York. I know our work together is important and life-changing for many, because it’s never lost on me as a Jew that not long ago, we were immigrants, too.

Evan Bernstein is regional director of ADL New York/New Jersey.

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