84 migrants are rescued in South Texas 0:45
(WABNEWS) — With less than three weeks to go before the midterm elections, immigration remains one of the most important issues for Latino voters; although opinions on legal and illegal immigration vary widely.
“I think they have been misunderstood,” said Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who has studied Latino voter preferences for decades.RELATED
While many Latino voters support the idea of a “more humane treatment” of immigrants and creating a path to citizenship for the undocumented, Teixeira said there are many in the community who are “not really interested or thrilled with the idea that people can just cross the border… They also think we need more border security.”
While polls show most Hispanics siding with Democrats on immigration, the GOP has made significant gains of late, even as it ramps up its anti-immigrant rhetoric popularized 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, which also indicated that roughly one-third support a border wall along the southern border. from USA
Protest of Venezuelan migrants stranded in Mexico 4:48
With candidates vying to capture every last vote, Latinos, who make up more than 30 million of the country’s registered voters, could tip the balance in major battleground-state races.
“There is a vulnerability there. This issue is a weak point for Democrats, even among Hispanic voters,” Teixera said.
Views on the southern border
Tougher immigration policy is part of what Abraham Enriquez says drew him and other Latinos in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley to vote for Trump.
“I think Latinos don’t really care much about what they say, it’s about what they’re going to do,” said Enríquez, who founded Bienvenido US, an organization that aims to mobilize conservative Hispanic voters.
The grandson of Mexican immigrants, Enríquez says Democrats are losing support among the fastest-growing voting bloc because their rhetoric is off the mark: They are too critical of the capitalist system and not critical enough of what he calls unrestricted immigration.
“If America is so bad, if America is such a terrible country to live in, why did 50 immigrants suffocate to death in a trailer trying to make a better life for themselves in this country?” he asked.
Trump delivered unexpectedly strong results in the Rio Grande Valley in 2020, and the region recently elected its first Republican representative in more than a century, with Mayra Flores winning a special election earlier this year.
While Republicans are closely watching three congressional races in South Texas as evidence of their appeal to the community, immigration attorney Carlos Gomez argues campaign promises often don’t lead to change. He says a sensible and balanced approach to reform, which is absent from the public discourse around immigration, is urgently needed.
“Neither side is dealing with the problem well,” Gomez said. “Either they speak to the right, or they speak to the left, but they don’t come (to the border) to speak to us. They don’t see what we’re doing on a daily basis.”
Gomez criticized Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s transportation of immigrants to Democratic-led cities. He called it an “inhumane” way to win votes, not a genuine effort to help immigrants or border cities.
“The country moves thanks to immigrants”
In Florida, another state with a large Hispanic population, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis also took the controversial step of airlifting dozens of Venezuelan asylum seekers to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, something immigration advocate Maria Corina Vegas called a “maneuver”
“It can be useful for television, to raise money, to play with your base, to feed a narrative of aggression. That’s what the 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 US fleeing the communist regime of Hugo Chavez, she argued that the demonization of foreigners among politicians may help mobilize some of her supporters, but it is something that will ultimately harm the country.
“I never thought I would see that in this country. I saw that in my country, and it tore it apart. It doesn’t matter if it comes from the right or the left. He is undemocratic,” Vegas said.
For Cuban-born businessman Julio Cabrera, the issue is inextricably linked to the US economy: “This country moves thanks to immigrants and Latinos… We do dirty jobs that others don’t want.”
Cabrera dislikes anti-immigrant rhetoric, he says, because the vast majority of immigrants entering the US are decent people looking for work and building a better life. He believes the immigration system should be kinder to those who have risked their lives for a better future.
After fleeing the communist dictatorship of Fidel Castro in 2006, Cabrera was held up at gunpoint while traveling through Mexico before reaching the southern US border, where he and his daughter sought asylum.
Now, he is a successful businessman who runs Café La Trova in Miami, where most of the staff are immigrants.
“Everyone is an immigrant here and we have done something remarkable for this community,” he says.
Younger voters, like Marvin Tapia, a Colombian-American living in Little Havana, argue that the recent rise in anti-immigrant sentiment is related to demographic change nationwide, which he says is a positive development that more politicians should to adopt.
“If we share a country built on immigrants, we should be proud of that. That we evolve and grow and change… I believe that growth is essential for the growth of a country, especially for one like the United States,” said Tapia. “We should learn from it, instead of running from it.”