Hispanic parents in Alabama say their kids have been facing increasing bullying in school since the state's tough crackdown on illegal immigrants took effect last month. It remains unclear how bad the problem has gotten, especially since the state hasn't received any formal complaints. Here, a brief guide to the tense atmosphere in a state trying to stamp out illegal immigration:
What kind of bullying are we talking about?
One Mexican woman who entered the U.S. illegally said her son, a 7th grader, was among a group of Hispanic boys who beat a team of Alabama-born boys in a game of pickup basketball. "They told them, 'You shouldn't be winning. You should go back to Mexico,'" the woman said, via a translator, as quoted by the Associated Press. Another Hispanic woman said her 13-year-old was called a "stupid Mexican" by a classmate, who threatened to punch her if she didn't "go back to Mexico."
How do we know the new law is to blame?
We don't. The state Department of Education hasn't received any formal reports of bullying linked to the law. Officially, it isn't even tracking the effects of the crackdown — a provision requiring schools to record the immigration status of students was halted by a federal court. Opponents of the law say the incidents aren't reported because immigrants are now afraid to have any contact with the authorities for fear of being detained or deported. Skeptics posting to Al.com said schoolyard bullying has always existed, and that the new law hasn't demonstrably increased it.
Is anything being done?
The U.S. Justice Department has established a bilingual telephone hotline, along with a dedicated email address, so people can report racially motivated violence or threats that might be connected to the law. But it could be hard to police. Machine shop manager Hector Conde says the controversial immigration issue is making the atmosphere tense for all Hispanics, whether they are citizens or immigrants. He says his daughter, 12, was called a "damn Mexican" by a schoolmate on the bus. "She is a citizen. She doesn't even speak Spanish," says Conde, who is originally from Puerto Rico. "The culture being created (by the law) is that this sort of thing is okay."