Oldest Latino rights group has simple equation for survival: Dump president, keep youth

The young members weren’t alone in pressing for Rocha’s resignation. Calls came out early from a local California LULAC council and from the state council. A cascade of resignation demands followed. Older LULAC members backed their younger members.

Joe Enriquez Henry, national vice president of the Midwest, said of the 35 voting members of the board, the majority have received letters from LULAC state directors asking Rocha to step down, including from the director in his home state, Texas. Henry said they have received no letters asking for Rocha to remain as president.

A shift on immigration

Advocating for legalization of immigrants has been a shift for LULAC. When it formed to fight racism against Mexican Americans in 1929, LULAC was careful to adopt the American flag and other patriotic symbols to dispel any notions that it was a seditious group.

And through the years, it has been a more conservative to moderate group, reflective of its membership.

Critics often point out that it fought the Bracero program that brought farm workers from Mexico to the U.S. and that it supported “Operation Wetback,” the deportation operation of the Eisenhower administration.

But in the current debate over immigration, LULAC has taken positions that are squarely with progressive immigration advocacy groups and young Latinos.

“In the early years we weren’t as open to immigrants and that certainly has changed,” said Brent Wilkes, LULAC’s CEO. “We fight on behalf of documented and undocumented.”

Not all agree with the LULAC national platform. In the fight over Rocha’s letter to Trump, Baldomero Garza, the director of LULAC District 18 in Houston, sent an email to some members defending Rocha.

“LULAC has taken the position to forget the other 44 million Hispanics in our country to advocate for Dreamers,” Garza said in an email.

“Dreamers are foreign citizens in our country. They have taken advantage of our benefits, benefits meant for American citizens,” he said.

But LULAC’s opposition to a border wall, support for veterans who have been deported, support for Dreamers and other immigration-related positions are dictated by resolutions voted on and approved by the group’s National Assembly, which is made up of council delegates who attend LULAC’s annual conference.

A new way of doing business

As it has tried to become more attractive to young people, LULAC also has done away with some old ways of conducting business, which it saw as a turnoff to younger potential members.

Until 2015, when LULAC adopted electronic, secret ballot voting, delegates had to stand up at national conferences and publicly state how they were voting, making voting delegates vulnerable to pressure and influence.

There were other recommendations for reforms from a governance study LULAC commissioned, but they were put on hold during Rocha’s tenure, said Morin, the Wisconsin past national vice president of the Midwest.

“Without the governance reforms, it’s easy for people to work outside established policies and practices and that will lead to significant challenges, as demonstrated by current circumstances,” Morin said.

In their statement condemning Rocha, LULAC Young Adults committed to repairing the harm they said Rocha caused and pledged to double their commitments and actions “to show the broader community LULAC does not appease or abet those who would threaten or exploit Latinos or immigrants for political ends.”

In other words, despite Rocha’s actions and because the group has demanded he resigne, the organization’s youth said they are recommitting to LULAC’s original mandate.

“How do you make sure you continue being the oldest and largest Latino civil rights organization in the country?” Wilkes asked. “We have to continually renew the membership and have young people coming in.”