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A January 28 letter by League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) president Roger C. Rocha, Jr. congratulating President Trump for the White House’s immigration framework has resulted in LULAC clarifying its position and calls by local LULAC groups and regional directors for Rocha to resign. An NBC News piece published after this interview said that sa id thatLULAC members have begun impeachment proceedings against Rocha.

Rocha has since retracted his letter, but that has not stopped LULAC members from asking the president of the country’s oldest Latino civil rights organization to step down. In an exclusive Thursday evening interview with Latino USA, Rocha said he would not resign from his position. He also explained why he wrote letter in the first place and what he plans to do as the legislative debate for immigration reform continues on Capitol Hill. Here is a transcript of the interview, which was conducted via telephone.

Julio Ricardo Varela: About the letter itself, how did it become public? What was you intention? Can you share more about why you wrote it in the first place?

Roger C. Rocha Jr.: My letter was intended as a personal letter to the President. We [LULAC] send out letters every day to members of Congress, corporations, etcetera. I cannot, and I don’t even know how my letter got out. And that is the honest truth.

It’s like me sending you an email and somebody just forwards it. But that’s really not the point.

The point really is that I care about Latinos and the Latino community—the immigrants and the DREAMers. And my letter was not intended to hurt anyone from our immigrant community—anyone at all. My letter was intended to say, “Hey, you know what? We need to continue the dialogue.” We need to continue to be at the table. I was simply doing what our [LULAC] constitution mandates us to do, and that is being nonpartisan.

I may not agree with a lot of the things the President does, because he does lobs attacks against our community, but I have to put my personal feelings aside, according to our constitution, and be nonpartisan for the betterment of our community. And I will tell you why, and that is because, if there is no one at the table, then we cannot properly defend our community. And that is the bottom line.

I understand completely why our community is upset because the President continues to attack us. Unfortunately, the timing of the release of the letter—because my letter is dated actually before the State of the Union…

LULAC president Roger C. Rocha, Jr. (Photo via LULAC)

JRV: The letter was dated January 28 and the State of the Union was January 30. But a few hours before the State of the Union speech, I saw that a few Republicans, I believe it was Senator Cornyn, saying that LULAC was supporting the President’s four pillars of his immigration framework…

RCRJr: Let me give you a little bit just so you have something, because people are misconstruing a lot. People are saying that I am personally in favor of a physical wall. That is not true. We have resolutions at LULAC that we oppose a physical wall, and I have to follow those resolutions.

One of the things that we negotiated, because LULAC has been at the table to negotiate everything, was hey, we need to protect out DREAMers. And in fact, I, like LULAC, want immigration reform to protect all Latinos who work hard in our community and love this country. That is the bottom line for LULAC. That’s what they do. They contribute socially, economically, etcetera.

In the discussions we have been having—let’s take one of the first pillars, the DREAMers. While the discussion was only 800,000, I was able to push the needle to say, no, 1.8 million would actually benefit from the proposal. And I pitched that to both sides of the aisle, and the Administration. So that 1.8 million that the President said—was because of LULAC. It was because of my efforts of being at the table to encompass all DREAMers, not just some DREAMers.

The other thing was on border security. We were on a committee for border security. We had negotiated no physical wall. We negotiated where there was a wall based on technology, drones, sensors, etcetera—and in those areas where there are physical, natural barriers such as rivers and mountains, you don’t need a wall. And if you recall, the President was saying that for a while. That is a credit to LULAC and the negotiations that I’ve been having at that level. People don’t know that.

Unfortunately, when the State of the Union came out, it was a totally different thing. And I understand. He played to his base. I understand that on border security, but…

JRV: So are you saying that you wrote your letter a couple of days before, but when the State of the Union happened, you’re saying that your letter felt dated by then?

RCRJr: I don’t agree with what came out of the State of the Union. That is a fact. I don’t agree with it. It was like a kick in the gut. Not only to me, but to the entire Latino community. Let’s be frank.

I would have not have written a letter if I had heard the State of the Union. My job is to protect the Latino community and immigrants. Period. Bottom line. Had I known that the way it was going to roll out, I would not have put out a letter.

Because the last thing I ever intended to do was to give the impression that LULAC and myself do not care about the Latino community, about the immigrant community, because that’s not the case. And the problem that we have, unfortunately, is something Senator Lindsey Graham had mentioned, and that is that sometimes the President changes his mind, so you don’t know sometimes who you’re dealing with.

But I still have faith that by being at the table and negotiating something that is fair, we can provide the protection for the DREAMers, those 1.8 million, that we need. Period. That is the reality of it. That is the reality of it.

My suggestion that I have now been pitching, and I saw that one of the Senators is running with it —I don’t know if it’s by fault of my own or he actually said that makes sense, I don’t know, it doesn’t matter, as long as it gets done— is that now if we’re able to marry border security, the way it is written today, with the Dream Act… if you put those two together and you put that on the floor for a vote, it will pass.

Granted, you’re going to have some people in parties that are not going to agree with it, but you will offset that with people from other parties that do agree with it.

Everybody agrees about having something for the DREAMers and a pathway to citizenship. It’s eighty-something percent of the American public agrees with that. And that’s something LULAC and myself have been pushing.

The border security, we’ve negotiated it. And at the end of the day, we have to do what’s right for the DREAMers.

I am an advocate for Latinos. I’ve been an advocate for over 25 years for the Latino community. I do not personally support the attacks that the President is doing on our community. But as president of LULAC, I don’t have that luxury to be expressing my personal opinions because I have 1.8 million DREAMers that I have to take care of.

And if you look at the family reunification that they’re trying to do, which is one of the pillars? We are currently in negotiations there. I want to put this out there to you, so you can think about it : for the 1.8 million people, if you get the family unit — that’s mother, father and child, that’s three— you have 1.8 million DREAMers, multiply that times three, that’s 5.4 million individuals that we can save. Period.

I look at it this way. Our deadline is February the 8th. LULAC and myself have to save as many of these individuals as we can. It’s like a hostage situation. You save as many individuals as you can.

And again, I just want things to be very clear: certain things were discussed during the negotiations, and things were changed after I had I already sent my letter.

JRV: Obviously in the online world, when things move fast and things become public, they have a tendency to steamroll. Right now, as I hear you, with all the calls for your resignation,  you don’t sound like someone who is about to resign as president of LULAC. Is that a fair statement? Are you resigning?

RCRJr: There are a lot of things on the table still that we have to address. And I think when the record is set straight as to why my intentions were about sending out a letter, I think people will actually step back and realize and say, “Oh, wait a minute.”

The line in the sand has been drawn, and LULAC is holding the line. And if we lose president Rocha at the table, then guess what, our community loses.

The deadline is February the 8th. In the event that it does get pushed back until March, I know that I will still be at that table fighting for the community and negotiating for them.

I can’t say what’s going to happen afterwards.

But at the end of the day, I have to give it my all. But if a deal that is fair to Latinos cannot be reached, then at the end of the day, I will hold my head up high, knowing that I did the best that I could and I will walk out of the negotiations and everything possible.

JRV: So you’re choosing to stay in the fight and keep at it?

RCRJr: Yes, because at the end of the day, Latinos deserve respect. If we leave one Latino behind, we leave the future of America behind. And the future of America currently are the Latinos. When you look at Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare—if we don’t have Latinos in the workforce, then those programs will really go bust. We need Latinos in our system. We need them. They are American citizens. Our DREAMers are there.

What we need and what I’m fighting for and what LULAC is fighting for, is for the country to embrace them and say, “Hey, you are part of the American fabric that makes our country what it is.” We cannot turn our backs on this anymore. More than 85 percent of Americans agree with what I just said.

We have to stop demonizing immigrants from all countries. Whether you’re from south of the border, whether you’re from Haiti, whether you’re from Africa or anywhere else, we need the Administration to come together and say that we are still a land of immigrants—everyone continues. We need to stop demonizing individuals because our diversity enhances our strength. The many cultures that we have enhances who we are as a people.

We will never lose our core principles of being American, and people should not fear that. Because the people that come to this country, the immigrants, are here for the American Dream and say, “Hey, I want to be an American and I will defend this country.” Because a lot of immigrants, a lot of DREAMers, are currently serving right now in the armed forces.

JRV: And is it correct that you as a president of LULAC, even though it’s your personal letter, you can write a letter without consulting the LULAC board?

RCRJr: Let me answer your question. We write letters to people every day. Whether it’s members of Congress, members of the corporate world, governors, senators, etcetera. We write letters every day. The only difference with this letter is that unfortunately, some people do not agree with the President. If it would have been letters to someone else, not a problem.

This is the original January 28 letter that Rocha wrote to President Trump and has since retracted.

Click here to read LULAC’s response to the letter, as well as a personal statement from LULAC CEO Brent Wilkes.

UPDATE, February 2, 2018: LULAC published the following from Rocha on its site:

To All Members of LULAC, Members of the Community, DREAMERS and Immigrant Community

“Let me begin by expressing my sincerest regret and apology for any hurt my actions in writing a letter to the President of the United States may have caused you. I am beyond hurt when I say that what I meant to be the best of intentions has turned into the worst mistake of my life. My intent was to keep our ongoing dialogue moving forward with the White House for a solution to benefit our community and keep out proposals that would be harmful. I want to be very clear on this…. I would never intentionally do anything to harm our organization and our community.”

“I want to explain to you, the events that led up to my action of sending out the letter. For over a year, I have been demanding a seat at the table in the White House to allow LULAC to be at the table for discussions that affect our community. We secured that seat. I have reported to the National Board that we have had meetings with members of the Administration and key members of Congress discussing border security and immigration. These efforts proved fruitful. As we approach the eleventh hour of February the 8th, a deadline set by this administration, our recommendation of moving the needle from protecting 800,000 DACA recipients to 1.8 million was accepted. Our recommendation on border security went from President Trump’s physical wall to a wall of technology and more boots on the ground. Both Democrats and Republican members of Congress support this type of plan. With respect to family-based migration we are continuing to negotiate our position for a permanent solution that allows for family reunification which is a key component of our LULAC platform.”

“I wrote my letter believing that with all the collective knowledge acquired during all these meetings, it may well be our last chance to save and protect our dreamers and immigrant community. I wrote my letter with the intent to continue our dialogue and hopefully be able to present such a strong argument that both members of Congress and the Administration would change their positions. I should have consulted with members of the Executive Committee for guidance on this. To my detriment I did not, and I alone created the chaos and misinformation we have today. Despite what you may have read or heard, I do not now, or have I ever supported a physical Wall on the Mexican / US Border. I support the reunification of families who have been split apart by deportation and all issues for which LULAC stands for.”

“I close with this. I am truly sorry to all members of LULAC and our organization for the pain I have caused each and every one of you. This was not done with malicious intent. I have never turned my back on the DREAMER and Immigrant Community and never will. God Bless.”

Yours in LULAC,

Roger C. Rocha, Jr.
LULAC National President

In addition, on February 2, the day after Rocha spoke with Latino USA, he was interviewed by NPR’s All Things Considered, where he said the following: “And I do apologize for making people upset with, you know, the word congratulations or thank you.”

UPDATE, February 8: Wilkes released a video saying that Rocha has been censured and LULAC will decide next steps when the LULAC board meets on February 16 and 17.

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