LULAC New Mexico state director Ralph Arellanes has announced that Henry Casso, a long-time civil rights leader in New Mexico and a founder of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, has died. He was 82.

Arellanes says Casso died Tuesday at an Albuquerque hospital.

Cassos had been suffering from a number of illnesses, including diabetes.

Born in Detroit, Mich., Casso grew up in an orphanage and was ordained as a priest in 1957.

After serving a San Antonio parish, he left the priesthood and became active in fighting discrimination against Mexican Americans and an education advocate for Latinos in Colorado, Texas and New Mexico.

The retired University of New Mexico education professor also helped found MALDEF, a group that spearheaded a number of important civil rights court challenges.