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Hispanic cry going unheard, leader says

America is smack in the middle of a multibillion crime spree, according to one of the country's most prominent Hispanic leaders.

Yet no one has organized a special task force, enlisting the G-men or lining up prosecutors.Raul Yzaguirre, president of the National Coalition of La Raza, said Monday that $12 billion is swiped from the pockets of Hispanics every year.

Their perpetrators? Business owners and others breaking the law by discriminating on the basis of race.

"These people usually wear suits and ties and go to country clubs, yet they're criminals," he said.

Yzaguirre was in Salt Lake City Monday to deliver the keynote address at the annual Cesar Chavez Peace and Justice Awards. Along with employment biases, the 58-year-old Texan blasted local calls for "English as an official language" legislation and expressed concern about plans to deputize Salt Lake County cops as immigration officers.

Yzaguirre recalled being spanked as a youngster for speaking Spanish on his grade-school playground. English-only legislation could make today's Hispanic youngsters again feel like criminals, he said.

The United States is the most "linguistic-ignorant" developed country in the West, Yzaguirre added.

"We can't be about supressing people with a bilingual capacity," he said.

Yzaguirre said he has great respect for Salt Lake Police Chief Ruben Ortega and other local law officers but admits he's worried about local peace officers enforcing immigration laws.

Crime victims who happen to be undocumented immigrants might hesitate to enlist police if there's a chance they'll be asked for their green cards, Yzaguirre said.

Selective enforcement also sparks worry. Only 50 percent of the illegal immigrants in this country are Hispanic, said Yzaguirre, yet 95 percent of the illegal aliens arrested and deported hail from Latin America.

America's on the heels of the 21st century, yet dated Hispanic stereotypes linger, he added. Still, "La Raza's' best days are ahead.

Latino-owned businesses double in gross receipts every seven years, and Hispanics play a pivotal role in ensuring the country's economic health.

"No group in America works harder than Latinos," Yzaguirre said.

The Utah coalition also honored several folks Monday for their contributions to the Utah's Hispanic community, including: Community Award - Ruth C. Reyes; Corporate Award - Autolive ASP; Education Award - Santiago (Jim) Sandoval, director of the Migrant Program and the director of Cultural Diversity for the Ogden City School District; Government Award - Josie Valdez, chief of the Minority Enterprise Development Division for the Small Business Administration; Media Award - Shawn Foster, Salt Lake Tribune reporter; Small-Business Award - Leo Bravo, Founder of the Hispanic Center in Cache Valley.

The group also bid farewell to outgoing President John Medina. He is succeeded by Jessie Soriano.