ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The leader of the oldest Latino civil rights organization in the U.S. said Wednesday he has "rescinded" a letter endorsing President Donald Trump's immigration framework that includes a border wall after receiving angry criticism from members and activists.
Roger Rocha, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said he wrote the letter at the request of the Trump administration while the group was in negotiations for an immigration reform compromise.
"It's just bad timing because most people think this letter is endorsing what the president said about immigration at the State of the Union," Rocha said. "It's not. The letter was about conversations we had before. We can't help it that the president changed his mind."
Rocha wrote Trump this week that the civil rights group would support his plan for a wall and immigration restrictions in exchange for protecting young immigrants brought to the country illegally.
"The four pillars which you have outlined, (Border Security, DACA Legalization, Protect the Nuclear Family and Elimination of the Lottery and Repurpose Visas) are items that LULAC can support if they remain within the current framework you have proposed," Rocha wrote in a letter dated Jan. 28. "I encourage you to stay engaged on what you have proposed in order to prevent other variations from being introduced by Congress."
The group's endorsement of the border wall and new restrictions on legal immigration drew strong reactions from members and activists across the country who say such policies would hurt Hispanics.
"Like everyone else, I'd like Congress to find a permanent solution for DACA students," said LULAC member Ralph Arellanes of Albuquerque, referring to the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. "But the wall ... that's not the message you want to send."
On social media, group members and Latino activists attacked Rocha for the letter and criticized him for supporting a plan many called racist.
Washington state LULAC Director Diana Perez said Rocha's letter was not approved nor seen by the national board before it was released.
"We are working together to address this unfortunate situation and remain united as a civil rights organization with clear purpose and direction," Perez said in a statement.
Some members were circulating petitions calling on Rocha to resign.
Rocha, of Laredo, Texas, called the reaction "normal LULAC politics" and said he had no intention of stepping down.
He said the group is not turning its back on the immigration community and doesn't support any changes that would prevent immigrants from legally requesting their family's entrance into the U.S.
"We are the only Latino civil rights group at the table," Rocha said. "We will continue to engage with the administration."
Associated Press writer Russell Contreras is a member of the AP's race and ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras