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LULAC 2014 Tackles Latino Vote, Civil Rights, Immigration

Image: A table of informational material at the League of United Latin American Citizens

A table of informational material at the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) 2014 National Convention in New York City, July 8, 2014. Luis Nuño Briones / LULAC

NEW YORK, NY -- Briefcase by his side, Nelson Resto of the Bronx surveyed the bustling scene in the lobby of the New York Hilton, home to the 85th annual convention of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). Over the next five days, Resto will join an estimated 20,000 people who expected to attend the gathering of the group that bills itself as the largest and oldest Hispanic organization in the United States.

“These conventions are very informative - there are an array of different topics that are addressed here that you cannot find anywhere else,” said Resto, a business and community liaison officer with the Brooklyn Job Corps Academy.

LULAC, headquartered in Washington D.C., has over one thousand chapters around the U.S. and Puerto Rico. The nonpartisan organization's mission is to advance the economic condition, educational attainment, political influence, housing, health and civil rights of Latinos. The focus of the 2014 convention will be immigration reform as well as civil rights.

Image: Brent Wilkes, National Executive Director of the League of United Latin American Citizens
Brent Wilkes, National Executive Director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, speaks at their 2014 convention in New York City on July 8, 2014. Luis Nuño Briones / LULAC

“I think the big focus areas this year are going to be the bread and butter issues that the Latino community is dealing with,” said Brent Wilkes, National Executive Director of LULAC. He cites the failure immigration reform and education as important topics. “But I think we’re also going to see a lot of discussion on things you might not expect, like technology, and how this affects Latinos; there will be a big discussion on health care reform and the opportunities provided by the Affordable Care Act.”

The ongoing border crisis is of particular concern to his organization, said Wilkes. “Our position is that this is a refugee crisis, it is a humanitarian crisis. We have got to make sure that we respond to it as we would any refugee situation.” He believes that the influx of unaccompanied children is driven by the drug trade and the violence in Central America. “The last thing we want to do is turn them (the children) right back to the places they are trying to escape.”

LULAC National President Margaret Moran told NBC News that the recent anti-immigrant protests in Murrieta were “mean-spirited” and that the anti-immigrant protestors “should be ashamed of themselves.”

LULAC's president Margaret Moran said her organization has a special challenge to get the next generation of Latino leaders civically engaged.

Moran said her organization has a special challenge to get the next generation of Latino leaders civically engaged. “If our youth and young adults don't get with it, and listen and observe the reasons why they should get involved, it is our responsibility to get them involved. We are the one electing those people in Washington who make policy, and it’s not working. There is so much negativity in Congress, it needs to change.”

At a Tuesday morning press conference, Wilkes announced that LULAC is partnering with the Hispanic Federation and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement to mobilize voters in the upcoming midterms. Their joint effort, called “Movimiento Hispano” aims to register 50,000 Latino voters before the November elections. In addition, the groups will work to get 100,000 already-registered Latino voters to show up at the polls.

Asked to grade President Obama’s presidency so far, LULAC Executive Director Wilkes said, “He is the first minority president in our nation’s history, and has had an awful amount of pushback from people trying to stop his agenda.” He cited the Affordable Care Act as one of Obama’s accomplishments that benefits Latinos. “Would I like to see him push immigration reform? Yes! Would I like to see him to a jobs Bill? Yes!... But he has been blocked a lot of the time… I would give him an A-.”

First Lady Michelle Obama will be speaking at LULAC’s Unity Luncheon on Thursday. Other guests and speakers during the convention include New York Mayor Bill di Blasio, Deputy Secretary of Department of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, Small Business Administration head Maria Contreras Sweet, and entertainers Jennifer Lopez and Rita Moreno. Apart from policy seminars, the event includes a job fair and the LULAC Federal Training Institute, a career development program for government and public sector workers.

For Latinos like Nelson Resto, who has been to 7 LULAC conventions, the chance to assess the state of U.S. Latino issues on a wide variety of topics is invaluable. “I keep coming because I keep learning more,” he said.