Special Reports

All Hispanics suffer from lawless few

There are two Hispanic populations in Pasco: the law-abiding and the lawless.

And it's the acts of the few lawbreakers who are "giving a black eye to all of us," said Pasco attorney Joe Ramirez.

Ramirez and other Tri-City Hispanics say Tuesday night's massacre of five young Hispanic men and the wounding of a sixth likely resulted from a cycle born of poverty and ignorance.

"We have to break that cycle. The question is how," said Ramirez, who has practiced law in Pasco 10 years representing the lawless, both as a public defender and in private practice.

One suggestion, he said, is to control the borders."

"I'm not saying cut off immigration, because we're all immigrants. But we should be able to control the migration into this country, which would control the drugs," he said.

While accurate figures about Pasco racial makeup are not available, most people agree that the Hispanic share is growing.

Ramirez said in recent months there has been a wash of publicity about crimes committed by Hispanics, including organized drug rings and murders.

In the Tri-Cities last year, there were 30 Hispanics arrested in connection with 122 reported violent crimes, including murders, rapes and assaults and robberies. Drug arrests are not counted as violent crimes.

Franklin County Prosecutor Dennis DeFelice said many of those arrested were Mexicans who were illegally in the U.S.

But no matter their immigration status, Ramirez said, "What the bad ones are doing makes the good ones look bad. The trouble is there are a lot of good Hispanic people out there that you don't hear about."

Thomas Maravilla of Kennewick agreed the Tri-Cities Hispanic community doesn't want "fingers pointed at us simply because our skin is brown."

Maravilla, who is involved in the Washington State Substance Abuse Council, is a college graduate and a Tri-City contractor who describes himself as a "role model."

"Maybe it's time the role models within the Hispanic community organized," he said.

"There's a war going on out there. Even if the deaths Tuesday night weren't drug-related, it's time to shout from the roof top in both languages that it's OK to say no to drugs," he said.

"These people doing these bad things don't represent me. And I certainly don't want to be associated with people who commit murder and do drugs no matter what their color. "

However, Maravilla said, the plight of the Hispanic poor and unemployed shouldn't be ignored by the white-collar workers within the Hispanic community or throughout the Tri-Cities.

He said many Hispanics who are here illegally have simply exchanged one life of poverty in a Mexican border town for a life of poverty in Pasco.

"They come from a country where everyone goes to church and listens to the message of Christ. Then they walk out the door and it's survival of the fittest. It's like that here for many of them.

"They've come to the land of opportunity and then some of them find they can make more bucks selling drugs than they can by working," he said.

Guillermo Castaneda, director of the La Clinica Migrant Health Center in Pasco, said the increasing drug problem in the Lower Yakima Valley, including Pasco, "is not an ethnic problem. It's a community problem."

Castaneda said the Tri-Cities lacks counseling for newly arrived Hispanic families. "I've been here four years and haven't seem much that anyone is trying to work with these families."

He said La Clinica "is trying to get involved in intervention. But we need help from the local and business community.

"What I'd like to see is for Tri-City people to get together and recognize that what we have here is a community problem. That's the first step toward a solution," he said.