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Man says acid attacker near 13th and Cleveland accused him of invading US

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58/AP) — Milwaukee police arrested a man suspected of throwing battery acid on a Hispanic man who says his attacker asked him, "why did you come here and invade my country?"

Police said Monday they arrested a 61-year-old white man suspected in Friday night's attack, but they haven't identified him. 

Mahud Villalaz suffered second-degree burns to his face. He said the attack happened after a man confronted him about how he had parked his car and accused him of being in the U.S. illegally. Villalaz, 42, is a U.S. citizen who immigrated from Peru.

"Thank God nothing worse happened. This can be healed. Thank God. I'm going to go see the eye doctor today... I chose love, family, this is a big lesson... It's hard that someone did this to me but at the same time, I just want to move on," Villalaz said. 

Villalaz sat down with CBS 58's Pari Cruz to talk about the incident. He said he thinks it was racially fueled. 

"He approached me right away with anger," said Villalaz. 

Villalaz said he thinks the attack was racially-fueled. 

"The experience that happened to me is really sad. I have been a victim of a hate crime for no reason. I've never seen this guy in my life," Villalaz said. 

Villalaz says it all started over his parking spot near the restaurant he was headed to. He parked his car beside the business when a man approached him. 

"'Why do you come here and not obey my laws. Why do you come here and invade my country'," Villalaz said.

Villalaz suffered damaged corneas, blurred vision, and second and third-degree burns, but he's relieved the suspect was arrested. Villalaz said his emotional scars might take longer to heal but says he's thankful he's still here to tell his story. 

"People get together, no segregation. It's horrible how we live. We need to be together. We are here in this amazing country. I love this country and we need to be together." 

The attack comes amid a spike in hate crimes directed at immigrants that researchers and experts on extremism say is tied to mainstream political rhetoric. 

At a news conference on Monday, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett expressed shock at the attack and blamed President Donald Trump for inciting hatred against minorities. The president has repeatedly referred to migrants attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border as an "invasion."

"To single out someone because they're from a Hispanic origin is simply wrong. And we know what's happening," Barrett said. "Everybody knows what's happening. It's because the president is talking about it on a daily basis that people feel they have license to go after Hispanic people. And it's wrong... What I saw was horrific. It is something that shouldn't occur in this community or on this planet. I never want to see anything else like this again in my life." 

Mayor Barrett went on to say that he obviously believes it's a hate crime. 

A report issued last year by the Anti-Defamation League said extreme anti-immigrant views have become part of the political mainstream in recent years through sharp rhetoric by anti-immigration groups and politicians, including Trump.

Surveillance video shows the confrontation but does not include audio.

Data collected by the FBI showed a 17% increase in hate crimes across the U.S. in 2017, the third annual increase in a row. Anti-Hispanic incidents increased 24%, from 344 in 2016 to 427 in 2017, according to the FBI data. Of crimes motivated by hatred over race, ethnicity or ancestry, nearly half involved African Americans, while about 11% were classified as anti-Hispanic bias.

Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University-San Bernardino, released a study in July that found a 9% increase in hate crimes reported to police in major U.S. cities in 2018. Levin found a modest decrease in bias crimes against Hispanic or Latino people — from 103 in 2017 to 100 in 2018 — in 10 major cities, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. However, Levin has said the totals likely would have increased last year if not for an unexplained drop in anti-Hispanic bias crimes reported for Phoenix, from 25 in 2017 to 10 in 2018.

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