Latino Group is Bringing Its Convention to Phoenix

The League of United Latin American Citizens, with 115,000 members, will attempt to reverse a “growing anti-Hispanic atmosphere” in Arizona by holding its national convention in Phoenix this June.

Human rights abuses against illegal border crossers, the November passage of a proposition against bilingual education and a recent proposal to allow Mesa police officers to act as Immigration and Naturalization Service agents indicate a growing climate of hostility against Hispanics in Arizona, LULAC Executive Director Brent Wilkes said.

The weeklong national convention usually draws 6,000 to 7,000 members, as well as high-level public officials.

“There has been a good relationship with the Hispanic community (in Arizona), but we were worried about these wedge issues,” said Wilkes, who will announce the convention’s relocation at a Phoenix press conference this morning.

Art Othon, chairman of the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau,
said, “Phoenix is not a racist city, and Arizona is not a racist state.”

“There have been a lot of events that appear to be anti-Hispanic, but the majority of people here are not that way,” added Othon, who is Hispanic.

The bureau has been recruiting minority organizations to hold their conventions in Phoenix for several years, Othon said.

LULAC, the nation’s oldest and largest Hispanic civil rights organization,
was not planning to hold its annual convention in Phoenix until 2003. But when plans to hold this year’s convention in San Juan, Puerto Rico,
unraveled in December, the organization’s board of directors decided to move the convention to Phoenix.

“There was this sense we should be going to Arizona now because in 2003 it might be too late,” Wilkes said.

The convention will explore ways of addressing issues like bilingual education and illegal immigration through various workshops and forums that promote unity, not divisiveness, Wilkes said.

The organization was particularly concerned when Arizona voters passed Proposition 203 in November. The law, which takes effect at the beginning of the 2001-02 school year, replaces bilingual education in favor of English immersion for limited English students.

“That really is a wedge issue that serves to alienate people more than help teach people to learn English,” Wilkes said, noting that LULAC has been “at the forefront” of teaching immigrants English.

The organization also became alarmed last year when armed ranchers in southern Arizona began capturing illegal immigrants near the border and turning them over to Border Patrol agents.

“If it’s an issue of people trespassing and littering, there are ways of addressing that rather than having people riding around on horseback rounding people up,” Wilkes said.

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