Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, who has long been as much an activist as a newsman, managed to find himself at the center of an immigration story yet again this week as he went head-to-head with GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, getting tossed from a press conference after repeatedly and insistently trying to ask questions.
The sides have been drawn, with immigrant rights activists accusing Mr. Trump of unveiled racism, and Trump backers saying Mr. Ramos was rude and out of line — and that the billionaire businessman showed magnanimity by letting the anchor back in to ask his question later.
But Mr. Trump is just the latest major figure to face the wrath of Mr. Ramos, who has made legalizing illegal immigrants his passion, and uses his position as the most prominent Spanish-speaking newsman in America to pursue his goals.
“Jorge Ramos is a big player,” said Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the American Principles Project’s Latino Partnership, a conservative group. “To every presidential campaign I speak to, I say, ‘Go talk to Jorge.’”
As host of Univision’s Sunday political talk show and chief anchor of the network’s nightly newscast, Mr. Ramos has outsize influence with Hispanics. He’s grilled presidential candidates, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker John A. Boehner — and, most notably, President Obama.
In 2008 Mr. Obama made a promise to Mr. Ramos to tackle immigration during his first year as president. When he failed, Mr. Ramos repeatedly demanded to know why. And as Mr. Obama set new records for removing illegal immigrants from the country, Mr. Ramos challenged him as “deporter-in-chief” and repeatedly pressured him to take action granting a deportation amnesty.
Last year, after years of saying he didn’t have the authority to do it, Mr. Obama reversed himself and announced just such an amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants.
Mr. Ramos has been described as the Walter Kronite of Latino America, though others see him more as an “advocacy journalist,” including Mr. Aguilar, who likened him to Fox commentator Bill O’Reilly, but with “a tilt toward the left.”
Mr. Aguilar said he’s just as likely to poke Republicans as he is to grill Hillary Rodham Clinton over comments she made last year that illegal immigrant children must be sent back home. But his questions consistently push for more leniency toward illegal immigrants.
“You can look at his biases and take note of that, but you cannot not talk to him,” Mr. Aguilar said, alluding to how an interview with Mr. Ramos has become a must-stop for many on the campaign trail. “He knows that both parties have to play politics with him.”
The 57-year-old was born in Mexico City, holds dual U.S.-Mexican citizenship, and has been anchoring Univision’s evening newscast since 1986.
Mr. Ramos has been upfront about how his daughter works for Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign, and his political beliefs, arguing that immigrants have become scapegoats for a variety of the nation’s ills and easy targets for presidential candidates.
He says it is a “myth that the influx of undocumented immigrants leads to more crime in the U.S.” and pushes back against the notion — advanced by Mr. Trump, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on the campaign trail — that increased immigration, both legal and illegal, has hurt wages and made it harder for Americans to find work.
His stances put him at odds with most of the 2016 GOP Republican field, which has basically adopted a border security-first refrain, with some candidates arguing that once that is done, then, and only then, would the public be willing to consider plans to provide some sort of legal status to illegal immigrants.
That could be a cause for concern for Republicans, who hope to make deeper inroads with Hispanic voters in the next presidential election after Mr. Obama in 2012 bested Mitt Romney by a 71 percent-to-27 percent margin among Latino voters, helping him in key swing states like Florida, Nevada and Colorado.
Daniel Garza, executive director of The Libre Initiative, a conservative group that targets Latino voters, said that Mr. Ramos’ political influence cannot be overstated.
“You have to respect him,” Mr. Garza said. “You have to give him his place, and if you want to earn the vote of the widest group of Latinos, you have to sit down with Jorge Ramos. If you don’t, I would question your mettle.”
Mr. Trump has found himself at the center of the immigration debate after vowing to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, to triple the number of deportation agents working the interior of the country, to do away with birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants and to require all illegal immigrants to go home to apply for legal reentry.
That drew the interest of Mr. Ramos, who showed up at a Trump press conference in Iowa Tuesday intent on challenging the candidate.
But when he stood and demanded answers to his questions, Mr. Trump said he had not been called on, told him to “sit down” and eventually to “go back to Univision.” A security guard then escorted Mr. Ramos out of the room.
He was allowed back in moments later, and he and Mr. Trump went at it.
Mr. Ramos told Mr. Trump that his plan was “full of empty promises,” saying he cannot deny birthright citizenship and questioning how he planned to “build a 1,900-mile wall.”
“Very easy,” Mr. Trump said. “I’m a builder.”
They also jousted over the term “illegal immigrant.”
“No human being is illegal,” Mr. Ramos said.
In response, Mr. Trump said, “Well, when they cross the border from a legal standpoint, they’re [an] illegal immigrant when they don’t have their papers.”
Mr. Garza said the collision of the two no-holds-barred styles made for a “surreal” political spectacle.
“They don’t do things in a normal way,” Mr. Garza said of both Mr. Ramos and Mr. Trump.
“Jorge doesn’t wait his turn and is very aggressive. That is his style. He has an advocacy journalism approach to things, and half the world appreciates that, and half the world doesn’t — and he doesn’t care.”
“And that is kind of the way Donald Trump is too,” he said.
On Wednesday, Mr. Ramos said he’d been trying to land a sit-down session with Mr. Trump.
“I want to have an interview with Donald Trump, and I wanted to have an interview with Donald Trump up to a point in which, a few weeks ago, I sent him a handwritten note with my cellphone on it, and instead of responding, he publish[ed] on the Internet my cellphone [number],” Mr. Ramos said on CNN.
“So he hasn’t been giving us answers, and this is very important for the Hispanic community, and this is personal, so we’re talking about the lives, throwing the lives of millions of people if [this] man goes ahead,” he said.
Speaking on NBC’s “Today” program, Mr. Trump said it was Mr. Ramos who was out of line.
“I was asking and being asked a question from another reporter,” Mr. Trump said. “I would have gotten to him very quickly, and he stood up and started ranting and raving like a madman, and, frankly, he was out of line, and most people — in fact, most newspaper reports — said I handled it very well.”
In June Mr. Trump filed a $500 million lawsuit against Univision over its decision to end its contract to broadcast the Miss USA pageant, which is co-owned by Mr. Trump. Univision cited what it called Mr. Trump’s insulting remarks about Mexican immigrants when pulling the plug on its plans to air the pageant in July.
Mr. Trump’s lawsuit accuses the network of a “thinly veiled attempt” to boost Democratic front-runner Mrs. Clinton. The lawsuit cites the fundraising work of the network’s principal owner, Haim Saban, for Mrs. Clinton.