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Violence Follows Immigrant-Bashing Rhetoric

Anti-immigrant rhetoric accompanies an attempted murder and arson against a family of Mexican immigrants in Farmingville, N.Y.

In the early-morning hours of July 5, five teenagers in suburban Farmingville, N.Y., used firecrackers to torch the home of a family of five Mexican immigrants. The family escaped death by minutes as the fire quickly melted the house's aluminum siding and kept spreading, scorching the trees outside.

"One would think one could go to sleep in peace because one has done nothing wrong," said a stunned Sergio Perez-Garcia, whose wife and two children survived the blaze along with another relative.

To the teenagers, four of whom were quickly arrested and charged with arson, reckless endangerment and hate crimes, apparently the family had done something wrong: They'd settled in Farmingville.

After speaking with the teenagers, the local district attorney reported that they showed no remorse over burning down the house, for the simple reason that "Mexicans live there."

The teenagers are not alone in their sentiments. Anti-immigrant fervor has spread through the Long Island town of 15,000 since Latin-American immigrants began to move there in the 1990s. In September 2000, two local white men posed as contractors and lured two Mexican day laborers — from a house next door to the one that burned this July — to a warehouse where they stabbed and beaten nearly to death.

Two weeks after that attack, Glenn Spencer of the nativist American Patrol hate group gave a fiery speech to a hard-line new anti-immigration organization in Farmingville, Sachem Quality of Life. A few days later, a member of Sachem — a group whose Web site blames a rise in local instances of "rape, sexual assault and manslaughter" on men "who hail from Central and South America" — was arrested for threatening a local Hispanic family.

No direct connection between either anti-immigrant group and the violent backlash in Farmingville has been established. But as the Rev. Allan Ramirez, a friend of the Perez-Garcia family, told Newsday, "What we are seeing is what happens when you plant the seeds of hate."