WASHINGTON -- Luis Osuna and fellow members of the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association haven’t been able to get much work done for the last two weeks. Their phones keep ringing, and it's either a member of the press on the line or a critic leaving a nasty voicemail.
This all started when presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested that Gonzalo Curiel, the federal judge overseeing two cases against Trump University, was biased because of his Mexican-American heritage.
Trump incorrectly identified the Indiana-born Curiel as "Mexican" and repeatedly pointed out that he was a member of the San Diego chapter of the La Raza Lawyers Association.
"He’s a Mexican," Trump told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Friday. "We’re building a wall between here and Mexico. ... This judge is giving us unfair rulings. Now I say, why? Well, I want to -- I'm building a wall, OK? And it's a wall between Mexico, not another country."
"He's member of a club or society very strongly pro-Mexican, which is all fine," Trump said in another interview on Sunday. "But I say he’s got bias."
Not only is Trump wrong about Curiel's national origin, but he's also wrong about the legal group, San Diego chapter president Osuna told The Huffington Post.
"A lot of people are assuming that since it's called ‘La Raza lawyers' that it’s only Mexicans," Osuna said in an interview. "But we consist of 300 members: judges, lawyers, law students, non-legal professionals that work in the legal field."
The San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association was formed in 1976 to advance equality and empower Latino attorneys and the community in San Diego County, providing bar exam stipends, scholarships for law students, social networking events for Latino lawyers, mentoring programs and professional development seminars. The group also hosts candidate debates for local elections. Its members are "Latino, non-Latino, Mexican, non-Mexican, Caucasian," Osuna said.
Yet conservative media outlets have continued to spread misinformation, linking the local lawyers association to the National Council of La Raza, or NCLR -- a 50-year-old nonprofit civil rights group that advocates for the Latino community nationwide.
The two groups are not related, though their names both include the phrase "la raza," which means "the people" in Spanish, but can also be literally translated as "the race." But both Trump and conservative pundits have chosen to use the literal translation to cast the group as some sort of Mexican supremacist organization.
In a blog posted over the weekend, NCLR called on Trump to apologize to Curiel, and also clarified that it is not associated with the lawyers group.
"There are in fact hundreds if not thousands of organizations, media outlets, and associations that use “La Raza,” the post said. "There is nothing nefarious about the use of this term."
Yet Fox News pundit Sean Hannity argued in a post that Trump was right to be wary of Curiel’s membership with the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association. “The San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association to which Curiel belongs is none-the-less a Latino activist group that supports pro-illegal immigration organizations,” he wrote.
Hannity reasons that the lawyers association must be tied to NCLR because the group's website includes a link to NCLR's site, as a recent article in conservative The Daily Caller noted. The San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association site does indeed include a link to NCLR's website on its “For the Community” page, which lists contact information for healthcare assistance, immigration detention facilities, and other community resources and institutions.
Osuna said he is aware that critics have seized on this hyperlink to the NCLR website as a reason to question Curiel’s objectivity. But NCLR is a “completely different” organization, he emphasizes. “We are not associated with them; we are not an affiliate of them."
"The San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association is a diversity bar association and we focus on increasing diversity and equality, particularly with Latinos in the legal field," Osuna said.
Still, regardless of which organization they think they're attacking, plenty of online commenters have lashed out at Osuna's group.
The barrage of emails and calls from Trump supporters haven't made life easy for members of Osuna's association. In an official 3-page statement on Wednesday, the group said the attacks have made it necessary to explain what it does. "The comments made by Trump have been misleading, blatant lies and even racist in nature," the statement reads.
Issuing a statement appeared to be the only way to respond to the constant stream of “vitriolic” and “hateful” voicemails, emails and social media posts, Osuna said.
“What’s troubling about Trump’s remarks is that he is a presidential nominee for one of the two major parties, and is calling into question the integrity of the court and offering us Americans an ominous view of how he’d wield the power of the presidency in order to intimidate the judicial branch," said Osuna. "It’s a blatant disregard of the separation of powers."
Osuna described Curiel, who is a member of the bar association, as someone who has “dedicated his life to public service." He pointed to one of Curiel’s many cases in which he prosecuted an international drug cartel that put a hit out on him.
Over the past 24 hours, a number of Republicans have assailed Trump for his comments about the judge, calling them "unacceptable." House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Trump’s statements were the "textbook definition of a racist comment," and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) advised the nominee to stop “attacking” minority groups. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who is facing a tough re-election fight, became the first Trump supporter to rescind his endorsement.
After defending himself over the weekend, Trump issued a non-apology on Tuesday evening, saying his statements were "misconstrued" and that he employs "thousands of people of Mexican and Hispanic descent." He added, however, that he still feels "justified" in questioning whether he’s receiving "fair treatment" from Curiel.
Trump also kept the narrative surrounding the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association going, vaguely referencing Curiel's "reported associations with certain professional organizations."
“What is ironic is that there are a lot of people that are leaving messages that are hateful, and they ask why such an organization is necessary,” Osuna said. “Just the notion that they are leaving those kind of remarks and voicemails is emblematic of why such an organization is necessary. It’s no secret that minority communities have been underrepresented and underserved.”