Around 20,000 people are expected to attend the League of United Latin American Citizens‘ 88th national convention, which kicked off Tuesday at San Antonio’s Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.

LULAC’s choice of host city for this year’s convention has special significance, as the conference takes place a mere week after U.S. Judge Orlando Garcia in San Antonio’s federal courtroom heard arguments for a preliminary injunction meant to block the “sanctuary cities” law from going into effect on Sept 1. LULAC was the first to file a lawsuit against Senate Bill 4, before Garcia ordered several other suits to be consolidated into one.

“The focus on SB 4 is absolutely critical and we’ll be addressing it front and center,” LULAC National Executive Director Brent Wilkes told reporters during a Tuesday briefing. “The judge is taking his time to make an informed decision, and when he makes a decision based on the facts we’re confident that we’ll get that preliminary injunction.”

SB 4 allows local law enforcement officers to question anyone they detain or arrest on their immigration status and punishes local officials who do not comply with federal immigration authorities. Supporters of SB 4 argue it does not require mandatory immigration checks and that the measure will promote public safety. Opponents of the law argue SB 4 will do the opposite and push undocumented individuals to stay in the shadows out of fear and not report crimes.

LULAC was founded in 1929 in Corpus Christi with the active participation of San Antonians and other South Texas activists battling discrimination and inequality. The last time the organization convened in San Antonio was in 2004.

In addition to addressing SB 4, sessions at the convention will cover topics such as President Trump’s proposed border wall, deportations, and other issues surrounding immigration. The four-day event is free and open to the public, and includes more than 250 speakers, an expo, and more than 75 workshops and panels through Saturday. Other topics on the agenda include activism, health care, career development, and other challenges the Latino community currently faces. For the full schedule, click here.

“San Antonio and LULAC have a long history together,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said Tuesday. “We are proud of that shared heritage and proud to call you a partner in the fight for civil rights and social justice. The work that you have done has helped uplift Latino communities to secure better wages for workers, created more equitable opportunities for everyone and our children.”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg addresses the crowd at a press briefing kicking off the 2017 LULAC convention. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Nirenberg touched on some of LULAC’s biggest accomplishments, including paving the way for desegregation in schools, fighting for veteran benefits, and providing educational pathways for all Americans. He thanked members of the organization and added that many of the current issues LULAC is advocating for “are centered here in the heart of Texas.”

“I thank you for the brave work that you’ve already done on those issues and know that you’ll have partners right here in San Antonio and across the state of Texas to make sure that we end discrimination no matter where it pops its head up,” he added.

Wilkes told the Rivard Report that the Latino population is pivotal to the prosperity of the United States and that laws like SB 4 would lead to “extraordinary levels of racial profiling.”

“There [are] 57 million Latinos in the United States,” he said. “By the time 2030 hits, 30% of the country will be Hispanic, so the future of the United States is tied to the success of the Latino community.

“We believe that people who are working hard, contributing to the economy of Texas, and those that are down in Crystal City picking that spinach are not causing harm … the idea of having police officers stopping people and asking for their papers – and there’s nothing that the mayor of San Antonio can do to stop that even if he doesn’t want it – we think that unconstitutional and unnecessary.”

Wilkes added that immigration from Mexico to the U.S. “is a net zero,” meaning more Mexicans are leaving the U.S. than coming in.

“It’s the last thing this country should be doing. If the law goes into effect on Sept 1. there will be people saying, ‘Do Not Come to Texas,’ and we could be one of those groups – but that’s up to the national assembly to decide that,” Wilkes said. “I hate to say that because San Antonio is actually part of the lawsuit and there’s a great community here, but somehow the community wants to send a message. How do you push back and say enough is enough?”

Civil rights icon Dolores Huerta said the convention should also focus on civic engagement and encouraging young people to vote. Huerta co-founded the United Farm Workers labor union with César E. Chávez in 1962 and continues to go out into marginalized communities to rally people in times of fear and injustice.

“I’m very, very proud to be a LULAC member and be here at this convention,” said Huerta, who is credited with coining the phrase “Sí se puede,” which became the rallying cry for farm workers everywhere and has since been used in major political campaigns. “[Texas needs to change] voter registration laws, which are the ones we had in California back in 1950.”

Huerta said the fight must continue to make it easier for people to register to vote.

“In California when people get their driver’s license, they are automatically registered to vote,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do … to make Texas not only the biggest state but the best state. Sí se puede!

Dolores Huerta.
Dolores Huerta speaks at the kickoff event at the 2017 LULAc national convention. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Rocío Guenther has called San Antonio home for more than a decade. Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, she bridges two countries, two cultures, and two languages. Rocío has demonstrated experience in...