Hispanic group in Congress boycotts White House event

President Donald Trump, second from right, kisses Cuban-American restaurant owner Irina Vilariño, second from left, during a Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Sept. 17, 2018. Luis G. Rivera Marín, Secretary of State and Lt. Governor of Puerto Rico, watches at right. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Citing President Donald Trump’s policies and comments about Latinos, members of the influential Congressional Hispanic Caucus boycotted a Hispanic Heritage Month celebration hosted by Trump at the White House.

In a letter to the president, caucus Chairwoman Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a New Mexico Democrat whose district includes Albuquerque, also cited Trump’s denial that nearly 3,000 lives were lost in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria last year.

“You have ignored and recently tweeted lies about the devastation and loss of life in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria, compared immigration to an infestation and attacked a judge because of his Hispanic heritage,” Lujan Grisham wrote in a Thursday letter to Trump.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, the nation’s only Latina governor, was one of the only elected Hispanic officials to attend the event on Monday.

Martinez, a once rising star within the Republican Party, previously denounced Trump’s campaign rhetoric about Mexican immigrants during the 2016 campaign.

But in recent months, she has warmed to Trump and praised his policies.

She is barred by term limits from running for a third term in New Mexico. Lujan Grisham is running to replace her.

Trump hosted what has been an annual, bipartisan ceremony started by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968.

At Monday’s event, Trump cited low employment among Latinos and told a crowd of supporters that the booming economy was especially helping Hispanic residents in the U.S.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says the unemployment rate for Hispanics was 4.7 percent in August. The U.S. unemployment rate is near an 18-year low of 3.9 percent.

“These are very hard numbers to beat,” Trump said. “We better win Hispanics next time.”

Martinez traveled to Washington to join Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, U.S. Treasurer Jovita Carranza and Puerto Rico Lt. Gov. Luis Rivera Marin for the gathering.

Phone calls and emails to Martinez’s office were not immediately returned Tuesday.

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Associated Press writer Russell Contreras is a member of the AP’s race and ethnicity team. Follow Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras

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