With the midterm elections less than three weeks away, immigration remains top of mind among Latino voters, but views on legal and illegal immigration vary widely.
“I think it’s been misunderstood,” said Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who has researched Latino voter preferences for decades.
While many Latino voters support giving migrants “more humane treatment” and creating a path to citizenship for the undocumented, Teixeira said there are many in the community who are “really not interested or happy with the idea that people can cross the border.” … They also think we need more border security.”
While polls show a majority of Hispanics siding with Democrats on immigration, the GOP has made big gains of late, despite increasing anti-immigrant rhetoric promoted by former President Donald Trump.
About 55% of Latinos support Democrats on the issue of legal immigration, according to a recent NYT/Siena College poll, with roughly a third also saying they support a border wall along the southern US border.
As candidates scramble to capture every last vote, Latinos (who make up more than 30 million of the nation’s registered voters) could tip the balance in key state contests.
“There is a weakness there. There is a soft side of the Democrats on this issue, even among Hispanic voters,” said Teixera.
Tough immigration policies are part of what Abraham Enriquez says drew him and other Latinos from Texas’ Rio Grande Valley to Trump.
“I think for Latinos, we don’t really care what you say, but what you do,” said Enriquez, who founded Bienvenido US, an organization aimed at mobilizing conservative Hispanic voters.
The grandson of Mexican migrants, Enriquez says Democrats are losing support among voting blocs in growing nations because their rhetoric is out of touch: too critical of the capitalist system and not critical enough of what he calls unlimited immigration.
“If America is so bad, if America is such a terrible country to live in, why did 50 migrants drown in a trailer to seek a better life in this country?” he asked.
Trump made surprise gains in the Rio Grande Valley in 2020 and the region recently elected its first GOP representative in more than a century after U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores won a special election earlier this year.
As Republicans look to three congressional races in South Texas to test their appeal in the community, immigration attorney Carlos Gomez says campaign promises often don’t lead to change. He says that a sensible and balanced approach to reform is much needed, but is missing from the public discourse on immigration.
“Neither party is addressing the issue well,” said Gomez. “Either they talk to the right, or they talk to the left, but they don’t come (to the border) and talk to us. They don’t see what we are doing on a daily basis.”
Gomez has criticized Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s busing of immigrants to Democratic-led cities as a “disgusting” way to win votes, not a real effort to help migrants or border towns.
In Florida, another state with a large Hispanic population, Gov. Ron DeSantis also took the controversial step of flying dozens of Venezuelan asylum seekers to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts in September — a move immigration advocate Maria Corina Vegas called a “stunt.” .
“Television can be interesting, to raise money, to play with the base, to feed a grievance narrative. That’s what populists do, effectively,” said Vegas, deputy state director of the American Business Immigration Coalition, a group that promotes comprehensive immigration reform.
As a Venezuelan-American who came to the United States fleeing the communist regime of Hugo Chavez, he argued that demonizing outsiders among politicians may help motivate some supporters, but will ultimately harm the country.
“I never thought I would see anything like this in this country. I saw that in my country, it broke my country. It doesn’t matter if it comes from the right or the left. It’s anti-democratic,” Vegas said.
For Cuban businessman Julio Cabrera, the issue is inescapably linked to the American economy: “This country moves because of immigrants and Latinos. … We do the dirty work that others don’t want”.
Cabrera says she is turned off by anti-immigrant rhetoric because the vast majority of immigrants who come to the U.S. are decent people who want to work and build a better life. According to him, the immigration system should be kinder to those who have risked their lives for a better future.
After fleeing Fidel Castro’s communist dictatorship in 2006, Cabrera says she was traveling through Mexico before reaching the southern border, claiming asylum with her daughter, who she claims was robbed.
Now, he’s a successful restaurateur, running Cafe La Trova in Miami, where he says most of his staff are immigrants.
“Everyone here is an immigrant and we’ve done something remarkable for this community.”
Younger voters, like Marvin Tapia – a Colombian-American living in Little Havana – say the recent rise in anti-immigrant sentiment is linked to a nationwide demographic shift, a positive development that politicians should be more accepting of.
“If we are sharing a country built on immigrants, we should be proud of it. That we have evolved and that we grow and change. … I think growth is key to the growth of a country, especially like the US,” said Tapia. “We should learn from it, instead of running away from it.”