The most influential Hispanic advocacy group in the United States
A creation of the Ford Foundation, from which it has received more than $25 million
Advocates open borders, free college tuition for illegal immigrants, lowered educational standards to accommodate Hispanics, and voting rights for criminals
Founded in 1968 with a $2.2 million “seed grant” from the Ford Foundation, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) describes itself as “the leading nonprofit Latino litigation, advocacy and educational outreach institution in the United States.” MALDEF’s mission is twofold: to “safeguard the civil rights of Latinos” and to “expand the opportunities for Latinos” in American society. MALDEF defines the category of Latinos to encompass both American citizens and illegal aliens. Consequently, the organization supports policies that run counter to American laws, especially American immigration laws.
In the course of its history, MALDEF has undertaken numerous legal campaigns to abet the cause of illegal immigration. In the 1980s, the organization threw its legal clout behind the claims of illegal immigrants in Texas, who demanded a right to a free education in the state at the taxpayers’ expense. In a successful lawsuit, MALDEF argued that denying the plaintiffs this “right” was unconstitutional. MALDEF has also brought suit against public colleges and universities, charging that they deny admission to illegal immigrants due to their “perceived immigration status.” (The schools have denied the allegation.) In a corollary campaign, MALDEF has sued to compel universities to charge low, in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants. MALDEF also holds that failing to provide bilingual ballots for Hispanic voters is discriminatory, and equates English-language ballots with the racism-inspired literacy tests once used to disenfranchise black voters in the American South.
In 1994, MALDEF condemned Operation Gatekeeper, a U.S. government program intended to restore integrity to a portion of the California-Mexico border, across which many thousands of illegal aliens streamed each year. Condemning this program for callously “diverting” illegal border-crossers “from California to the harsh and dangerous Arizona desert,” MALDEF charged that Americans opposing unrestricted immigration were motivated largely by “racism and xenophobia.”
MALDEF has repeatedly placed its support for illegal immigration above American national security. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, the organization spearheaded a protest campaign against Operation Tarmac, a federal crackdown on airport workers with immigration violations. According to MALDEF, such law-enforcement efforts amounted to “actions that harm the civil rights of Latinos rather than protect them.”
MALDEF was a signatory to a March 17, 2003 letter exhorting members of the U.S. Congress to oppose Patriot Act II on grounds that it contained “a multitude of new and sweeping law enforcement and intelligence gathering powers … that would severely dilute, if not undermine, many basic constitutional rights." In addition, MALDEF has endorsed the goals of the California-based Coalition for Civil Liberties, which tries to influence city councils nationwide to pass resolutions of noncompliance with the provisions of the Patriot Act. In 2004, MALDEF emerged as a leading champion of the Civil Liberties Restoration Act, which, under the rubric of promoting “our nation’s safety,” sought to impede the ability of federal authorities as well as state and local law agencies to enforce immigration laws.
MALDEF favors the issuance of drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants. While acknowledging that this confers de facto citizenship and rewards lawbreaking, the organization nonetheless maintains that the measure is necessary to prevent “discrimination” against immigrants. In MALDEF’s view, biases against minority immigrants pervade virtually every aspect of American life, as expressed in MALDEF’s denunciation of the “customary practice of workplace discrimination” against Latinos.
Trumpeting the value of immigrants who currently reside in the U.S. in violation of immigration law, MALDEF states that America’s “failed immigration policy … has resulted in a complete lack of legal recognition of millions of immigrants who are the backbone of the U.S. economy … doing the jobs that U.S. citizens and residents do not want.” On the basis of these purported contributions to American society, MALDEF has exhorted Congress “to consider legalization” for all “undocumented persons living and working here in the U.S.”
Education is another focus of MALDEF‘s activism. The organization has repeatedly filed lawsuits aimed at forcing states to mandate bilingual education in public schools, and has sought to suppress successful ballot initiatives -- such as California Proposition 227 and Arizona’s Proposition 203 -- to ban bilingual education. After California voters passed Proposition 227 in 1998, MALDEF, along with the ACLU, filed for a temporary restraining order to keep the state’s largest school district from implementing the will of the voters. MALDEF has also waged a prolonged legal battle to lower educational standards to accommodate Latinos.
The organization’s campaign against the use of standardized tests to evaluate students is of a piece with this effort. In the late 1990s, MALDEF filed a class-action suit against the state of Texas to prevent the state’s schools from conditioning a high-school diploma on a student’s ability to pass a basic academic achievement test, the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills. Attorneys for MALDEF argued, unsuccessfully, that because some students, including a quarter of Hispanic students, failed the test, it was “unfair to all students,” and to “minority students” in particular.
A staunch defender of affirmative action programs, MALDEF has sought, by means of lawsuits and legislative proposals, to stop universities from using standardized test scores in the admissions process. In 2004, MALDEF filed suit against California State University, claiming that the school “misuses standardized test scores” and thereby creates a system that is “dysfunctional and unfair” to minority students. In support of this accusation, MALDEF adduced the fact that the university “attaches great weight to an applicant’s SAT or ACT score.”
Although MADLEF professes a commitment to expanding opportunities for Latinos, that commitment has observably wavered whenever the individuals in question have deviated, even if only hypothetically, from the organization’s uncompromising support for unrestricted immigration. Thus, in 2001 and in subsequent years, MALDEF declared against the nomination of Miguel Estrada, a Honduran immigrant, to the Washington, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Among its objections, MALDEF cited the possibility that Estrada could fail to “protect the labor and employment rights” of “undocumented workers.” In January 2005, MALDEF opposed the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales to the post of U.S. Attorney General. The organization praised Gonzales’s personal history -- he is of Mexican ancestry -- as “compelling,” but expressed concern that he might allow states to enforce immigration laws.
In December 2006, MALDEF -- in conjunction with the Hispanic National Bar Association, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials -- called on U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff to place a moratorium on worksite raids designed to turn up illegal aliens. Said MALDEF President and General Counsel John Trasviña, “Federal officials have the obligation to enforce the immigration laws consistent with civil rights laws and good judgment. Putting over 1,200 immigrants, only 5 percent of whom have criminal charges, in jails across the country and separating them from family members raises concerns.”
As part of its advocacy campaigns, MALDEF has repeatedly portrayed its political opponents as racists who hold Latinos in low esteem. In the organization’s view, supporters of making English the official language of the United States are “motivated by racism and anti-immigrant sentiments,” while advocates of sanctions for employers reliant on illegal labor seek to discriminate against “brown-skinned people.” Similarly, opposition to the distribution of drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants is rooted in “fear and prejudice.”
Significantly, however, MALDEF has its own connections to racist sentiments and groups. MALDEF’s Founder, Mario Obledo, said in 1998: “California is going to be a Hispanic state and anyone who doesn’t like it should leave. They should go back to Europe.”
Additionally, MALDEF has long partnered with Latino organizations like the National Council of La Raza (“the Race”), which openly seek to advance what they perceive to be their interests as a distinctive racial group.