Turmoil embroils US Latino group amid leader's Trump backing

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The oldest Latino civil rights
organization in the U.S. is facing turmoil over its leader’s
initial support for President Donald Trump’s immigration plan and
it comes amid evolving membership that includes politically
active immigrant students.

Until about 10 years ago, the League of United Latin American
Citizens was known for its efforts to “Americanize” Hispanic
residents following decades of group support for restrictive U.S.
immigration policy.

But members say a deep split that emerged last month between some
of the group’s 132,000 members and its president, Roger Rocha,
reflects how the organization known as LULAC has transformed to
include immigrant rights as a central feature of its agenda.

“It took a while but LULAC finally got with the times,” said
Dennis Montoya, the state director of LULAC New Mexico.
“Immigrants are an important part of our community.”

Rocha has been under intense pressure to resign after he wrote a
letter on Jan. 28 supporting Trump’s border security proposal —
including the U.S.-Mexico border wall and a reduction in visas
for foreign relatives of U.S. citizens in exchange for greater
protections for children in the U.S. who were brought to the
country illegally by their parents and parents who overstayed

Rocha later rescinded the letter and called writing it “the worst
mistake of my life” but said he will not resign. Some members of
the group’s 12-member executive board have said they will mount
an effort to impeach him next week at a 3-day meeting in
Washington, D.C.

Montoya said Rocha should have known that his support for Trump —
which was not backed by the group’s board — would have been
widely viewed as a step backward to positions that the group has
not supported for decades.

The group generally supported immigration restrictions in the
1940s and 1950s and a civil rights lawyer, Gus Garcia, who worked
with the league held a historic meeting with President Harry
Truman in which he asked for a crackdown on immigrants trying to
enter the U.S. illegally.

Later, the group sought the reduction of the “Bracero Program” in
the 1950s that allowed low-wage Mexican guest workers to work
legally in the U.S. before leaving or staying permanently.

Founded in 1929 by World War I veterans, the League of United
Latin American Citizens formed in response to the discrimination
that Mexican American veterans and residents faced in Texas. The
group soon expanded to other states and grew even larger after
World War II when U.S. soldiers with Mexican roots came back from
fighting in Nazi Germany ready to take on segregation.

Unlike mutual aid societies of the time that helped Mexican
immigrants in the U.S., the League of United Latin American
Citizens felt “Americanized” Hispanics would be better suited to
battle discrimination. Chapter meetings always started with the
Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer attributed to George

Those “Americanization” efforts continued until the late 1960s
when a new generation of activists sought to include immigration
reform as part of the group’s efforts, California LULAC state
director Dave Rodriguez said. And that trend has only intensified
in recent years.

“Now this new generation and more young members are speaking
out,” Rodriguez said. “The old LULAC is gone.”

Jeronimo Cortina, a University of Houston political science
professor, cited changing demographics among U.S. Latinos as the
main reason for members’ anger with Rocha. And most Latinos
either have relatives in the U.S. who are in the country
illegally or know of people who are.

“Many Latinos now come from mixed-status families,” Cortina said.
“So it’s no surprise that LULAC members are slowly changing the

Some members warn against adopting stances that would favor
immigrants over Latinos who are U.S. citizens and those with
legal permission to live and work in the country.

Baldomero Garza III, a LULAC district director in Houston, said
in a letter to members that the group should “represent the
interests of all Americans first,” including the more than 40
million U.S. Latinos.

“Let’s be crystal clear: Dreamers are foreign citizens in our
country,” Garza wrote. “They have taken advantage of our
benefits, benefits meant for American citizens.”


Associated Press writer Russell Contreras is a member of the AP’s
race and ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter at

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