In the last week, I joined with many Latino immigrant and community based organizations around the nation to send an open letter to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to express “…our grave concerns regarding the refugee crisis of unaccompanied minors besetting our southern border with Mexico and the public posture and proposed actions articulated by President Barack Obama for his administration and the country.” We want to ensure that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus hears from community representatives and that we expect them to vigorously oppose any effort to undermine existing constitutional and statutory protections established in law and the nation’s history.
Our experiences with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), particularly many local chapters, have been positive especially during the leadership it exhibited during the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) debates in Congress from 1979 to 1985. We have worked well with LULAC members and chapters in California and other states for many years, as well. The fact that LULAC has local chapters in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas where the current challenge with unaccompanied minors has been greatest, could contribute greatly to understanding the situation and arriving at effective solutions. There is no question that like other pro-immigrant advocates, LULAC members are protesting current debates calling for the deportation of these children.
Only two months ago, members of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda released a report entitled, Detention, Deportation and Devastation: The Disproportionate Effect of Deportations on the Latino Community. Looking at the deportation rate from 1998 to 2014, the report focused on the crushing impact the separation of families had on the Latino community.
It is therefore very troubling that a civil rights organization such as LULAC would mount a campaign against a corporation, Herbalife, which is aligned with someone-William Ackman, who has profited financially from the increased deportations along our borders.
So who is William Ackman?
For the last year as the owner of Pershing Square Investments, William Ackman, has generated media attention accusing Herbalife of utilizing deceptive business practices targeting disadvantaged communities, particularly Latinos. Mr. Ackman’s campaign has found a supporter in Brent Wilkes, National Executive Director of LULAC. Mr. Ackman has been very public about his objective to shut down Herbalife in order to realize sizable profits for himself. Though lucrative for William Ackman, his Wall Street bet, if successful, would destroy the benefits provided to thousands of Latino families, both consumers and distributors of Herbalife products.
Mr. Ackman and Mr. Wilkes have waged this attack on Herbalife and its distributors, predominantly Latino, without ever conferring with the Latino immigrants who have had positive experiences with the company. This appears to be more about media coverage for Mr. Wilkes and cohorts rather than discerning the facts by dialoging directly with Latino distributors.
We question the motivations driving Mr. Wilkes to attack Herbalife considering the sizeable number of Latinos affiliated with the company who have had a positive experience. In contrast, while proclaiming he is holding Herbalife accountable, Mr. Wilkes displays a double standard by ignoring the legally documented abuses other corporate partners of LULAC have committed against Latinos, for example, Wal-Mart and Target.
Only Mr. Wilkes can explain why LULAC chooses to associate with the likes of Mr. Ackman considering its decades-long work and leadership on immigration policy during the 1980’s and its continued efforts to find a solution to current immigration reform challenges. But why would Mr. Wilkes expose LULAC to a campaign of misinformation being championed by a Wall Street billionaire who reportedly made an estimated $200 million from his shares in the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA)?
CCA is the largest private prison company in the U.S., which includes detention jails of undocumented persons in various states. From 2009-2011, Mr. Ackman served as the largest single investor in CCA. During this time, CCA actively advocated expanding detention jails over the years in order to increase its profits. Simply put, the more Latino detainees, the more profits for CCA. To preserve this business model, CCA was active in Washington D.C. calling for government funding for detention centers. The company even joined a meeting where anti-immigrant proponents began crafting the language for SB 1070 in Arizona.
CCA is amongst the largest private contractors with the Department of Homeland Security for jailing immigrants and Mr. Ackman has made a hefty profit from this dirty business of jailing suffering and desperate immigrants, Latinos in particular. Mr. Wilkes has placed LULAC in a very precarious situation that deserves the attention of its honorable membership, and requires an immediate correction.
The charges and media attention on the matter of Herbalife, and Latinos, have served to undermine the very people LULAC was founded to support, defend, and represent – Latinos. LULAC needs to get back to the business of solving the historical problems bedeviling our community – a poor educational system at all levels, broken immigration policy, limited economic opportunities, declining homeownership, growing discrimination, and the prolonged economic crisis still undermining the Latino family. LULAC is currently hosting its national convention here in New York City and will include a workshop entitled, Deportation Nation: Immigration Reform Crisis and Opportunity. If there is any association with Mr. Ackman and LULAC, it should be reserved for discussion and censure during this session.
Nativo Vigil Lopez is an advisor to Hermandad Mexicana (founded in 1951) and the Mexican American Political Association (founded in 1963), and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.