Hispanic Groups Reconsider Their Support for Gonzales

By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Two years ago, major Hispanic groups broke with other civil rights organizations and supported Alberto R. Gonzales's nomination for attorney general, primarily because he would become the highest-ranking Latino ever in a presidential Cabinet.

Now, these groups say they are suffering from buyer's remorse.

"I have to say we were in error when we supported him to begin with," said Brent Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens. Gonzales, Wilkes said, has not aggressively pursued hate crimes and cases of police profiling of Hispanics. "We hoped for better. Instead it looks like he's done the bidding of the White House."

Janet Murguia, president and chief executive of the National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic rights group, called Gonzales "a follower, not a leader." In the Hispanic community, she said, "people are conflicted. They are excited that a Latino had a chance to serve as the attorney general." But, she added, "I think we've been disappointed with his record so far."

Activists have criticized La Raza and LULAC for backing Gonzales. Critics questioned how these groups could support, in the name of ethnic solidarity, a man who had a role in permitting more aggressive interrogation techniques to be used on terrorism suspects held in Cuba and elsewhere.

A few rights organizations that once backed Gonzales now refuse to talk about him. Gilbert Moreno, president of the Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans, said, "We're not really in a position to comment." Gonzales once sat on his organization's board.

The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, which offered enthusiastic support for Gonzales, also declined to discuss him. William Ramos, director of the organization's Washington office, said, "We provided a support letter, yes," then hung up.

Wilkes and Murguia said their disappointment with the attorney general started long before Democrats and Republicans in the Senate began calling for his ouster over the firing of U.S. attorneys.

"The reason these attorneys were fired is that they weren't investigating allegations of voter fraud," Wilkes said. "Republicans use voter fraud allegations to create more registration burdens for our members without any evidence. I think Gonzales himself was pushing some of these voter-restriction techniques. He ought to know better."

Wilkes said LULAC's frustrations with Gonzales came to a boil last year when he declined to meet with board members to discuss the beating and sodomy of a Mexican American teenager by two white teenagers in Houston. The attorney general agreed only to meet with Hector Flores, a former president of LULAC.

"When he showed up, Gonzales wouldn't talk much about the case," Wilkes said. "He wanted to lobby him for his support of the Patriot Act and the removal of individual protections. When that happened, we realized things weren't going as planned."

Flores, who still supports Gonzales, recalled the meeting differently. He said the attorney general met with only one person to avoid turning the session into a media event. Gonzales asked if LULAC would support extending the USA Patriot Act, and Flores said his answer was no.

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