Latinos for Donald Trump

Hispanics, among the fastest-growing of all segments of eligible voters, played a crucial role in President Obama’s two elections. Yet, over the past couple of decades, pollsters and political operatives have regarded the Latino vote as a sleeping giant waiting for the right jolt.

I am rooting for Donald Trump.

Not because I want to see him attempt to build an impenetrable wall along the border with Mexico nor because I’ve been following his grotesque campaign with the kind of guilty gusto that got me hooked on the reality show “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.”

I’m rooting for Donald Trump because he could unlock the potential of America’s Latino electorate.

Hispanics, among the fastest-growing of all segments of eligible voters, played a crucial role in President Obama’s two elections. Yet, over the past couple of decades, pollsters and political operatives have regarded the Latino vote as a sleeping giant waiting for the right jolt.

Hispanics have understandably responded to the xenophobic Trump campaign — which has hardened the immigration positions of other Republican candidates — with outrage. But many political organizers see him as a godsend.

“Quite frankly, it’s the best thing that can happen to us as community leaders to convince people that not participating in civic life has consequences,” said Ben Monterroso, the executive director of Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, one of several organizations that are mounting an ambitious effort to get Latinos to vote in 2016. “They’re challenging the Latino community to see if we’re going to be able to defend ourselves at the ballot box.”

In 2012, 48 percent of eligible Latino voters cast ballots in the presidential election, lagging behind white and African-American voters, whose turnout rates were 64 percent and 67 percent, respectively. Eligible voters of Mexican origin had an even lower turnout, 42 percent.

An estimated 5.4 million Latinos are eligible to become American citizens but have yet to take that step, making them by far the largest pool of non-naturalized immigrants who could become eligible to vote by 2016. Among them, Mexicans have been the least likely to naturalize. The cost of the process, roughly $680, and anxiety about taking a civics test are among the reasons many Latinos have not become citizens.

In 2016, an estimated 26.7 million Latinos will be eligible to vote, 58 percent more than a decade ago.

Mr. Trump has promised to deport millions of unauthorized immigrants, seize the remittances Mexican immigrants send to relatives back home and charge the Mexican government for the wall he intends to build. His vision, which, unmistakably, is to “Make America White Again,” has triggered outrage in Latinos of diverse backgrounds, nationalities, political outlooks and immigration statuses.

His campaign antagonized Univision, the dominant Spanish-language news network, and put its top anchor, Jorge Ramos, on a warpath. The Cuban-American singer Pitbull delivered an impassioned speech denouncing Mr. Trump. The Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin wrote an op-ed article saying Trump’s candidacy “makes my blood boil.” The Colombian star Shakira called the boorish candidate “hateful and racist.” The Latin music moguls Emilio and Gloria Estefan are enlisting other artists to record a track titled “We’re All Mexican” to convey how much the candidacy has inflamed the community.

“When you’re attacked, belittled, characterized as being unworthy and subhuman, it has an effect of unifying and leading to collective action,” said Cristóbal Alex, president of the Latino Victory Project, one of the leading national groups seeking to increase Latino political clout. “It has folks angry, and our job is to take that anger and turn it into action.”

What is unfolding nationally is reminiscent of the 1994 initiative championed by Pete Wilson, a Republican who was then governor of California, that sought to bar undocumented immigrants from attending public schools and seeking medical care.

The measure, which passed but was never carried out, drove Latino immigrants to become naturalized in droves and register to vote. Largely as a result, California became a solidly Democratic state, where running on an anti-immigrant platform is today broadly regarded as political suicide.

Seeking to replicate that model in battleground states and those that could ultimately flip from red to blue, several well-financed liberal groups are working to register voters and persuade permanent residents to become citizens in Florida, Nevada, Colorado, Texas and Arizona. The Dallas chapter of Catholic Charities is on track to assist with 840 citizenship applications this year, a twofold increase from five years ago, when the effort began.

“People are up in arms,” said Vanna Slaughter, the head of that chapter’s immigration unit, referring to anti-immigrant messages that the current crop of Republican candidates has amplified.

Latinos are far from monolithic in their views and politics. There are plenty of libertarians and social conservatives who are drawn to Republican principles and policies. Some want even more restrictive immigration policies.

But the vast majority of us feel strongly that America desperately needs immigration reform that offers unauthorized immigrants a path to citizenship. The current Republican candidates are making a fundamental mistake by making Latinos feel unwelcome at home.

“Donald Trump can disappear tomorrow,” Mr. Monterroso said. “But the damage is done.”

New York Times |By ERNESTO LONDOÑO

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