National Council of La Raza “Unaware” That Conference Sponsor Wells Fargo Funds Private Jails

Jul 3, 2012
6:43 PM

Today, the Twitter account of the National Council of La Raza tweeted the following announcement:

The tweet was intended to promote NCLR's annual conference this weekend in Las Vegas. Other companies, like UPS, Walmart (that is another story), Bank of America, and Southwest Air, were also mentioned in separate tweets. However, the Wells Fargo announcement has many US Latinos scratching their heads as to why the country's largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization was accepting a conference sponsorship from a bank that has heavily invested in the nation's fast-growing private prison industry, the same industry that has been building private immigration detention centers in the Southwest. As reported by on April 11:

A driving force behind the push for ever-tougher sentences is the for-profit prison industry, in which Wells Fargo is a major investor. Flush with billions in bailout money and an economic system designed to siphon wealth from the working class to the idle rich, Wells Fargo has been busy expanding its stake in the GEO Group, the second largest private jailer in America. At the end of 2011, Wells Fargo was the company’s second-largest investor, holding 4.3 million shares valued at more than $72 million. By March 2012, its stake had grown to more than 4.4 million shares worth $86.7 million.

Stories about Wells Fargo's financial support of the private prison indsutry and its detainment of immigrants have been reported in outlets such as the HuffPost since last year. The following viral video by Cuéntame provides an overview of how this industries literally profits from the detention of immigrants:

In addition, many Latino groups participated in a very vocal and well-attended march protesting Wells Fargo this past May in Denver during SEIU's meeting. At that march, both the housing crisis and the private jail industries were major themes.

We reached out this afternoon to NCLR and spoke via phone with Lisa Navarrete, Adviser to the President of NCLR. Navarrete confirmed that NCLR was "unaware" of what Wells Fargo had done. Navarrete said that NCLR was a key force in helping companies divest from ALEC, one of the country's most controversial anti-immigrant organizations, but admitted that NCLR did not know about the controversy behind Wells Fargo.

"We're looking into this issue with Wells Fargo, but we were unaware of the issue," Navarrete said.  "If [NCLR affiliates and members] want to raise this issue with Wells Fargo at the conference, they can."

Navarrete also acknowledged that Wells Fargo was not a "perfect" company, but also said that NCLR takes the philosophical stance to engage private companies such as Wells Fargo so that companies can "give back to the community."

"It's very difficult to find companies, especially companies in the Fortune 500, with perfect records," Navarrete said. "This is our way of helping them reach out to the Latino community, give back, and more importantly, hold them accountable. It is important that these companies give back to the communities they serve, and NCLR chooses to engage with them." 

Nonetheless, Navarrete said that NCLR understands that others might have a different philosophy in how people should react to the policies and practices of private companies. According to Navarrete, people have every right to protest and boycott companies (NCLR was a major player in leading a very public boycott of Arizona to protest the state's SB 1070 law), yet NCLR approaches certain companies as a way to get them more connected with the US Latino community. In the case of Wells Fargo, according to Navarrete, NCLR has had a long history and relationship with Wells Fargo because of "the bank's enormous prominence with Latinos in the housing industry." 

"This is the 800-lb. gorilla," Navarrete added.
Navarrete emphasized that by bringing the issues to Wells Fargo that matter to its organization and US Latinos, companies like Wells Fargo get more informed. NCLR, according to Navarrete, has been working with Wells Fargo to find better solutions to the foreclosure crisis in Latino communities.
Reaction on social media has been critical of NCLR's announcement. Here is a just a sampling of what people are saying on Facebook:

I do not believe that they were not aware of WFs actions.

Claiming ignorance is not the answer here!!

Maybe NCLR is helping Wells Fargo find more Latinos to foreclose on… The Raza corporate sponsorship trifecta, 1) get drunk on Bud so that 2) no one will mind a union getting busted up in order to sell us cheap, low quality goods, or 3) realize our cribs got foreclosed.

Yes, because nothing says I soul my soul to the devil, like letting him sponsor your conference room.