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Making drunk driving an immigration issue spreads hate

Making drunk driving an immigration issue spreads hate
Making drunk driving an immigration issue spreads hate
Dag Peak / FLICKR

Early Tuesday morning on March 25, a fatal crash occurred in Aurora where a drunk driver is suspected of killing a 17 -year-old. Local news stations repeatedly emphasized the suspect's immigration status deeming him "illegal." Intertwining drunk driving issues with immigration statuses, distracts from the real issue of drunk driving.

Scholar and professor at the Illif School of Theology, Dr. Miguel De La Torre stated, "The death of a 17-year-old by a drunk driver is a tragedy and there's no question about that and the drunk driver should be punished for that regardless of his status but connecting this particular drunk driver with the term illegal is a way of criminalizing everyone who is undocumented."

Recent mainstream news coverage is not analyzing the issue of drunk driving but rather spreading xenophobia. A study conducted in 2008 found that immigrants aren't more likely to drive under the influence than United States citizens. The study also notes that birthplace is not a factor in drunk driving. In response to the recent news coverage, racial justice advocate Joe Deras Espinoza stated, "This is a criminal justice problem not one of immigration. The way that the main news outlets, CBS4, NBC9, FOX31, ABC7, and The Denver Post have decide to report this story is irresponsible."

According to research by sociologist George Gerbner, 70% of Latina/o news coverage focuses on immigration, which typically only focuses on crimes committed by people of Latina/o descent. This type of coverage causes hate crimes and dehumanizes Hispanics. Gerbner concluded that if there is no positive balance in coverage, racism increases and bias rules.

In 2013, the AP (Associated Press) Stylebook removed the term "illegal immigrant" from their Stylebook and noted it was a derogatory term that should be replaced with undocumented. "In a very literal way the 'illegal' word is a lot like the N-word," De La Torre stated, "It's used to make a group of people seem more dangerous and less worthy than another group of people. If for example you were to go out driving today and you didn't have your license with you, your driver's license, you would not be called an illegal driver because you don't have proper documentation and yet that is exactly what we're doing to people without proper documentation to be in this country."

The family of the 17-year-old victim is currently pursuing legislation that will ensure mandatory jail time in cases of vehicular homicide and assault involving alcohol or drugs.