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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Lawyers Group Not ‘Pro-Mexican’

Donald Trump claimed that a federal judge presiding over a civil lawsuit against the defunct Trump University is a “member of a club or society very strongly pro-Mexican.” That’s an inaccurate description of a group for Latino lawyers and law students in San Diego.

“We have no pro-Mexico agenda,” said Luis Osuna, president of the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association. “We are here to help Latino law students and lawyers.”

Trump has said that U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was born in Indiana to Mexican immigrants, is biased against Trump partly because the presumptive GOP presidential nominee’s immigration proposals include building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

On top of that, Trump told John Dickerson, host of CBS’ “Face the Nation,” that Curiel belongs to a group that is “very strongly pro-Mexican.”

Trump, June 5: He’s a member of a club or society, very strongly pro-Mexican, which is all fine. But I say he’s got bias. I want to build a wall. I’m going to build a wall.

Trump made a similar claim about Curiel’s affiliations during an interview with CNN “State of the Union” anchor Jake Tapper.

Tapper, June 5: So, no Mexican judge could ever be involved in a case that involves you?

Trump: Well, no, he is a member of a society where — very pro-Mexico. And that’s fine. It’s all fine.

But it’s not accurate to call the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association “very pro-Mexico” or “very strongly pro-Mexican.”

The lawyers association “was formed with a desire to effect change in San Diego by representing the interests of the Latino community, identifying issues which involved the Latino community, and advocating for those issues,” according to its website. It was incorporated as a 501(c)(6) organization in 1979, and in 2005, it formed the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association Scholarship Fund for Latino students.

The group lists the following goals under its mission statement:

• Increase the overall number of Latinos in the legal profession.

• Encourage and support Latino and Latina judicial candidates to apply to the bench

• Advocate for the promotion and retention of Latino and Latina attorneys and judicial officers.

• Improve the professional skills of our members through our certified MCLE programs.

• Provide for the professional and social interaction among our members and other organized bar associations.

• Improve the delivery and access of legal services to the county’s Spanish speaking community.

• Provide role models and mentoring to Latino youth through direct interaction with students and school districts.

• Strongly advocate positions on judicial, economic and social issues to political leaders and state and local bar associations that impact the Latino community.

The San Diego group is one of more than a dozen affiliates of the California La Raza Lawyers Association, and both are affiliated with the Hispanic National Bar Association.

Curiel, on a 2011 judicial questionnaire to become a federal judge, listed the Hispanic National Bar Association and La Raza Lawyers of San Diego among the groups that he belongs to.

But some Trump supporters have confused the San Diego legal group with the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization that supports “comprehensive immigration reform,” including a path to U.S. citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Osuna, the SDLRLA president, said the two groups are separate.

“The only connection we have is that we provide services to the Latino community,” he said. “We are not affiliated in any other way.”

The lawyers association, on its website, does list the National Council of La Raza as a resource for the Latino community. However, Osuna said that organizations listed there simply provide services not available through the San Diego group.

When Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly asked Trump if he regretted making an issue of Curiel’s Mexican heritage, Trump said that he brought it up because he was asked.

O’Reilly, June 6: OK. So wouldn’t it have been better then if you didn’t bring up the Mexican thing at all and just said what you said here tonight because, look, you’re being sued, I understand we did analysis of your lawsuit’s history and you win most of your lawsuits. You are a big guy. Guys are going to come after you. You know that. So wouldn’t it have been better if you just said, look, I don’t think I have been treated fairly, here’s what we have, and let the Mexican thing alone?

Trump: Well, the question was asked to me, you know, I mean, all these times, every time I go. I want to talk about how lousy the economy is. I want to talk about how badly we are doing against ISIS. How badly we are doing on the border. But every time I go onto a show all they want to talk about is Trump University.

But Trump has been suggesting since at least February that Curiel’s background might make him less than impartial. At a campaign rally in Arkansas, Trump said:

Trump, Feb. 27: There is a hostility to me from the judge, tremendous hostility, beyond belief. I believe he happens to be Spanish, which is fine. He is Hispanic, which is fine. And we haven’t asked for recusal, which we may do. But we have a judge who’s very hostile.

The next day, in an interview with “Fox News Sunday” anchor Chris Wallace, Trump suggested that Curiel “has been extremely hostile” to him because of Trump’s position on border security.

Trump, Feb. 28: I think the judge has been extremely hostile to me.  I think it has to do with perhaps the fact that I’m very, very strong on the border. Very, very strong on the border.  And he has been extremely hostile to me.

Trump brought it up more recently in a campaign speech in San Diego on May 27. He called Curiel “a hater of Donald Trump” and said that he “happens to be, we believe, Mexican, which is great.”

Now, Trump, says that his comments about Curiel were “misconstrued.” In a written statement, Trump said:

Trump, June 7: It is unfortunate that my comments have been misconstrued as a categorical attack against people of Mexican heritage. I am friends with and employ thousands of people of Mexican and Hispanic descent. The American justice system relies on fair and impartial judges. All judges should be held to that standard. I do not feel that one’s heritage makes them incapable of being impartial, but, based on the rulings that I have received in the Trump University civil case, I feel justified in questioning whether I am receiving a fair trial.

Trump is free to question whether he is receiving a fair trial. But he now says that he does not “feel that one’s heritage makes them incapable of being impartial” when the record shows otherwise.

He not only questioned Curiel’s impartiality because of his “Mexican heritage,” but he also told Dickerson on “Face the Nation” that a Muslim judge may not be impartial, either, given Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering the U.S.

Dickerson, June 5: My question is, if it were a Muslim judge, would you also feel like they wouldn’t be able to treat you fairly because of that policy of yours?

Trump: It’s possible, yes. Yes. That would be possible, absolutely.

Trump says in his statement that he will not comment any further on the Trump University lawsuit.