‘Drastic’ number of Spanish-speaking workers targeted for robbery, theft nationwide, expert says
A string of thefts and robberies mainly targeting Spanish-speaking construction workers isn’t just happening in Minneapolis.
It’s a nationwide trend and the number of cases is “drastic,” HACER-MN Executive Director Rodolfo Gutierrez reported back following conversations with representatives for consulates of Spanish-speaking countries in other major U.S. cities last week.
Although Spanish-speaking workers have been targeted for decades, he said, this was the first time that Gutierrez could recall a group of Hispanic advocacy organizations from across the country sitting down to tally it up.
“I didn’t even know that we have this kind of issue with that dimension,” Gutierrez said. “So I guess this is going to trigger some kind of attention nationwide on, ‘What do we need to do?'”
Minneapolis Police reported more than a dozen incidents happening over a two-day span in early November. Gutierrez didn’t have an exact tally but said hundreds more cases happened around the same time in at least Chicago and Dallas.
“They were talking about two weeks, so it was in a very short period of time,” he added.
The belief, according to Gutierrez and other advocates, is that Spanish-speaking workers are primarily targeted over an assumption that they are new Americans who are less likely to have a bank and more likely to be carrying cash.
Like in Minneapolis, Gutierrez said cars are being broken into or even stolen from construction sites in other major cities. The biggest issue, he said, is workers being robbed for their paychecks, sometimes at gunpoint.
“And they say the thing I said before,” he said, referring to the consulate representatives. “There are regular cases coming to the consulate’s window saying, ‘You know what, I was assaulted. So, I have no money. What can I do now?'”
The number of cases known to consulates is likely much higher than reported to police. 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS first spoke to Minneapolis construction worker Miguel Sevilla last week who said he’d been stolen from within the month.
The next day, he reported his work truck was rummaged through again.
“We’re just here trying to… work, feed our families, you know, feed ourselves and the fact that people are trying to, like you said, target us, that sucks,” he said during the Nov. 13 interview.
“That is the worst part because so many kids are desperate,” Gutierrez said,
“I mean, people are calling, ‘Where can I have food for free in the meantime [as] I recover from this event?'”
Minneapolis Police have called these crimes “preventable,” urging workers to lock their car doors and not to leave anything, especially money and IDs, inside.
Asked if he would also call the crimes “preventable,” Gutierrez responded, “Yes and no,” adding there are some situations that “go beyond” the “common actions you might take” to stop them from happening.
“There are so many people who are listening that immigration is bad, that they are taking out their jobs…and they are just reacting to that…attacking or targeting immigrants, or people who look like immigrants,” Gutierrez mused.
“So it’s not that easy. So many times, it’s like, that kind of aggression you cannot prevent with any kind of common measures.”
Gutierrez said there are at least ways to lessen the risk of being targeted for theft. The biggest thing, he said, is don’t leave yourself “exposed” with cash or checks. In other words, make a plan to take your pay home as soon as you receive it, and if you can help it, don’t be alone while transporting it.
A spokesperson for Minneapolis Police on Sunday was not able to get an updated total number of cases. Officers have not made additional arrests, he added.