- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2016

Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign promising to build a border wall to stop illegal immigrants — and Hispanic rights advocates say Republicans will now reap the pain of having him as their party’s nominee.

America’s Voice, a leading immigration advocacy group, said Republicans are facing “a moment of truth.” Other organizations predicted that Hispanic voters will be eager to punish Mr. Trump for his rhetoric and the party as a whole for nominating him.

“The Republican Party is about to run into a force more powerful than their hatred — the power of the love of families and communities standing together,” said Kica Matos, director of immigrant rights at the Center for Community Change.

On the other side are Hispanic Republican leaders who fear exactly what has come to pass. They say Mr. Trump has a lot of work to do even to get Hispanics in his own party to back him up.

“I cannot support him, I cannot campaign for him, I cannot vote for him,” Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, told The Washington Times.

“Having said that, I am taking a pause and just seeing how this evolves, and considering all the things that the country is facing, all the things that are at stake in this election I am willing to see if Mr. Trump evolves on a number of issues. I hope that he revises his views on immigration and if that is the case I would be willing to consider reconsidering my position,” he said.

Hispanics are one of the fastest-growing demographics in the American electorate, and Republican nominees have lost a share of that vote in the past two presidential elections, from about 40 percent in 2004 to 31 percent in 2008 and 27 percent in 2012.

Polling shows Mr. Trump poised to win even less than that this year — though he insists Hispanic voters will respond to his message.

“I love Hispanics,” he said in a widely noted Twitter post Thursday. He showed he was celebrating the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo by posting a photo of a taco bowl from Trump Tower.

The biggest question is how many Hispanics will turn out and whether they will outmatch the working-class white voters Mr. Trump is expected to energize with his calls to strike better trade deals and to stop foreign competition for jobs.

Hispanic and immigrant rights groups have been urging immigrants who have been in the country long enough to be eligible for citizenship to finish the process and register to vote.

“Sitting out is not an option for our community, ever,” said Maria Teresa Kumar, president of VL Action. “American Latinos have been listening closely to Republican nominee Donald Trump and his hateful rhetoric against immigrants, Latinos, Muslims and women. And we’re preparing for November.”

So far, however, the numbers don’t show a major spike in registrations. Indeed, from October through January — the most recent numbers available — slightly more than 213,000 people took the oath of citizenship. During the same months in 2011 and 2012, some 223,000 took the oath.

This was supposed to be the year Republicans made inroads with Hispanics. The party’s 2012 postmortem specifically identified a strict immigration policy as a reason for Mitt Romney’s loss of the presidency and urged Republican lawmakers to soften their stances and their rhetoric.

Massey Villarreal, a former chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, said party leaders in Washington made a good effort to follow through. He specifically praised the Republican National Committee’s outreach.

But Mr. Trump went the other way by calling for a wall on the border with Mexico and saying the country was sending rapists and drug dealers to the U.S. Other candidates tacked toward him, including Sen. Ted Cruz, who eventually became Mr. Trump’s chief opponent.

Now, with Mr. Trump as the presumptive nominee, the Republicans who warned against him are grappling with the fallout. There is little sign of a rush to unity.

“Donald Trump needs us; we don’t need him. Unless he is willing to be part of this fabric, we won’t be part of his deal,” Mr. Villarreal said.

Mr. Trump has not softened his stance during the campaign, and it could even be argued that he doubled down by proposing a deportation force to speed the ouster of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in the U.S.

He has said he would quickly try to readmit many of those he has deported.

Still to be seen is whether Mr. Trump’s comments draw a surge of Hispanics to the polls to register their disapproval.

Immigrant rights groups are determined to make that happen.

“Donald Trump is not a clown to be dismissed; he’s a threat to be defeated,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice. “This is a moment of truth for Latino, Asian-American and immigrant voters. Comprising the fast-growing segments of the American electorate, many have been scapegoated and demonized by Trump’s dark vision for America. The November elections will be a referendum on Trump’s ‘us’ versus ‘them’ bigotry, and no one can afford to sit this one out. The priority of registering, mobilizing and turning out the vote must match the urgency of the threat posed by Trump.”

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