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Latino civil rights group demands president resign for writing Trump immigration letter

LULAC has given its embattled president 24 hours to resign but he is resisting.
Roger Rocha Jr., president of the League of United Latin American citizens, in a 2015 photo. Suzanne Gamboa / NBC News
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By Suzanne Gamboa

WASHINGTON -- The top leaders of the nation's oldest Latino civil rights organization demanded on Saturday that their president Roger Rocha Jr. resign for telling President Donald Trump in a letter the organization backed Trump's immigration demands.

Joe Enriquez Henry, LULAC's national vice president for the Midwest, said Rocha has 24 hours to resign, but even if he refuses, he is effectively out as LULAC's president.

"This time tomorrow, in our eyes, he is no longer president," Henry said.

The members of LULAC's executive committee also censured Rocha and ordered him not to speak on behalf of the League of United Latin American Citizens. Rocha refused to step down and ended the meeting after 3 hours and 15 minutes. His lawyer blocked the full board from voting saying the executive board had acted improperly.

A call to Rocha by NBC News Saturday evening was not answered. Henry said Rocha told the leadership he would be taking two weeks and would make a decision.

Effective immediately, LULAC's CEO Brent Wilkes, who has been with the organization 30 years and issued a personal statement criticizing Rocha's letter, is in charge of all official business at the office, the leaders decided.

Rocha on Friday had issued an apology for the chaos and hurt he said he caused by sending Trump the Jan. 28 letter on official letterhead, which he said "turned into the biggest mistake of my life."

Rocha had said in the letter that LULAC could support the demands for a border wall, drastic cuts in legal immigration and the elimination of the diversity visa lottery.

“It was important for him to be held accountable by his peers. He heard directly from us. His peers told us he needed to step down, even his longterm friends thought now was the time for him to step down," Henry said. "They thought he made a mistake and by staying on would only create a negative impact to the organization."

The actions were first approved by LULAC's national vice presidents and elected national officers. The board, however, was stopped by Rocha from voting on the actions. Henry said the board would reconvene on Sunday for a short meeting and on Monday.

Henry said LULAC will cease paying Rocha the stipend he receives. Aside from a Washington staff that has seen many resignations during the past year, LULAC is a volunteer organization.

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Rocha had said in his apology, issued Friday, that it was critical for LULAC to be in meetings with the White House. He said by being "at the table" on behalf of the group, he and others had helped soften Trump's immigration demands and expand his offer of legalization.

He acknowledged he should have consulted with other LULAC leaders on the letter, but said he wrote the letter believing it may have been the last chance to "save and protect our dreamers and immigrant community."

Trump has demanded the tough immigration measures in exchange for support for a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million immigrants who arrived or stayed in the country as children without legal permission, so-called DREAMERS. LULAC's members have endorsed legalization for DREAMERs, but have opposed the other immigration measures.

Many Dreamers and undocumented people are LULAC members. The letter drew quick rebuke from LULAC members and led to a campaign to force Rocha out. Calls went out last week for his resignation and some members moved to impeach him, as the group's governing laws allow.

"All of us have been getting calls and emails and texts from council leaders and members saying he should be stepping down to pay for his mistake," Henry said.

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