A leading U.S. civil rights organization says anti-immigrant sentiment is fueling a nationwide increase in hate groups and hate crimes against Latinos.

A new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center says 888 hate groups operated in the United States last year, an increase of 48 percent since 2000. It cites FBI statistics showing a 35 percent increase in reported anti-Latino hate crimes between 2003 and 2006. The report says the increase is linked to anti-immigrant activism.

The report's co-author Mark Potok says a large increase in anti-immigration groups appeared in the southern border states of California, Arizona and Texas, where illegal immigration is a volatile political issue.

Among the additions to the center's list of hate groups is an organization called the Federation for American Immigration Reform. Its president Dan Stein rejected the hate group label, saying his organization has been smeared.

The Southern Poverty Law Center alleges the group spreads conspiracy theories and racist propaganda about immigrants, and that it has a history of ties to white supremacist groups and ideology. But the federation says it advocates an end to illegal immigration and supports tighter controls over legal immigration.

Among the largest categories of hate groups cataloged in the report are neo-Nazi and white nationalist organizations, racist skinheads, Ku Klux Klan groups, black separatists and general hate groups, including anti-gay organizations.