Courting latinos:Trump, Pence reaching out for votes

Ben Mikesell | The Goshen NewsEdgar Gutierrez, manager of Gutierrez Bakery in Goshen, works in the deli Friday morning.

GOSHEN — The chances Edgar Gutierrez will vote to reelect President Trump next year are remote.

Guitierrez didn’t hold back criticism of the president as he worked in the deli of Gutierrez Mexican Bakery, his family’s shop along Main Street in downtown Goshen.

“There’s no future for Hispanics with Trump as president, in my opinion,” Gutierrez said. “His attitude is not good towards us.”

Born in the U.S., Gutierrez manages the business his parents opened after immigrating to the country from Mexico. His opinion isn’t a total representation of those held in the growing local Hispanic and Latino community, but one along a spectrum of viewpoints on the Trump administration and national politics.

Geovanny Almiray of Goshen, who assists CNC operators at Crane Composites, agrees with Trump the country needs better border security. But the political refugee from Cuba disagrees with the president’s campaign of targeting Latino immigrants.

“I understand that this country needs to be secure. The country needs to control the border, needs to control arms, needs to control drug dealers … but with a different way,” Almiray said during a walk at Pringle Park.

Peter Ordonez, a wood worker from Elkhart, said he doesn’t approve of Trump’s attitude toward immigrants. But he credited a decrease in deportations to the president.

“Of what he does know … is there have been less deportations with Trump being president compared to the past presidents,” a translator said, communicating Ordonez’s response as the family enjoyed time at a local pool.

‘LATINOS FOR TRUMP’

Gutierrez, Almiray and Ordonez responded to questions last week related to the Trump campaign’s move to rally Latino support ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

Vice President Mike Pence spoke in Miami June 25 to launch the “Latinos for Trump” coalition, describing the president as “a great champion of Latino and Hispanic Americans.”

Pence promoted the administration’s immigration efforts and touted economic policies as responsible for record employment and entrepreneurship for Latinos. He said more Latino Americans are working now than at any time in history.

He spoke the day before the Democratic candidates for president kicked off debates for the 2020 race in Florida. Pence blamed Democrats for obstructing immigration reform and claimed the party would usher in a destructive socialist system of government — a point aimed at linking the party to socialist-run South American countries in the minds of Latino voters.

“IDENTITY POLITICS”

Local attorney Felipe Merino sees the Latinos for Trump coalition as identity politics that lumps Latino voters into a compartmentalized demographic. He noted the strategy is slightly hypocritical since Trump criticized Democrats for playing identity politics in the past.

“I don’t agree with the need for the president and the vice president to indulge the masses in a campaign of identity politics with Latinos in 2020,” Merino said, calling Pence’s description of Trump as a “champion” of Latino and Hispanic Americans a little overkill.

Merino, who ran for the Republican nomination for a Goshen City Council seat in May, said many Hispanic and Latino families have generations of roots in the U.S., and they aren’t as connected to their cultural heritage as recent immigrants.

Since they count themselves as Americans, and since many Latino American families have social values that lean conservative, Merino believes the Trump campaign should focus on how conservative principles benefit all citizens.

“If you’re going to stand for economic empowerment, don’t just stand for Latinos, stand for everyone,” Merino said. “If you’re going to paint a picture of more social conservative values, then paint a picture of how it affects the American fiber, and how it strengthens the American democracy for everyone.”

POSITIVE POSSIBILITIES, UPHILL CHALLENGE

Richard Aguirre, community impact coordinator at Goshen College, believes the new coalition could create positive side effects.

“I think it’s a good thing they’re reaching out to the Latino community,” Aguirre said.

Building up Latino supporters could result in more inclusion in the Trump administration and could help temper controversial policies on issues such as immigration, he said. But, he thinks the campaign will face significant challenges swaying Latino voters, especially if the new initiative is viewed as a blatant vote-grab.

“I think the campaign will have an uphill battle because of some of the rhetoric used against immigrants,” Aguirre said. “If this is just an effort to get Latino votes, but it isn’t sincere, I don’t think it will be very successful.”

Gutierrez is certain the coalition is a sham and President Trump will turn his back on Latinos if he gets reelected.

“If he would actually make this country better, I wouldn’t care. But he doesn’t care about the country,” Gutierrez said at his shop.

Aguirre cautioned opponents not to dismiss the Latinos for Trump initiative, saying Democrats should take notice of it as a sign Latino support isn’t a certainty.

“I don’t think it’s good for the Democratic Party to take for granted Latinos,” Aguirre said.

He said Latino Americans have diverse views and opinions, reminding politicians and the media they don’t all fall onto one side of issues. That includes immigration reform, in that those who went through the process to become U.S. citizens might not all look favorably on those who entered the country illegally and remained.

THE LONG CAMPAIGN

Where Trump wants to sway more Latinos to his side in a year, Elkhart County Republican Party Chairman Dan Holtz prefers a longer-term strategy with smaller steps to recruit more local Latino and Hispanic voters over time.

Holtz described a scenario where Latinos coming into the country and moving to the area might initially lean Democrat, favoring reliance on a centralized federal government for support. But as they put down roots and build up livelihoods, Holtz said Latinos may realize the federal government is not the best value for their tax dollars and gravitate toward the GOP.

“The degree to which the Republican Party locally is successful in growing our support among Hispanic voters has to do with our ability to communicate to people sort of individually,” Holtz said.

He promoted the party as open to accepting members as individuals rather than based on their race and ethnicity. He also said he would like to see more participation from residents from all walks of life.

KEY DEMOGRAPHIC

Elkhart County provides a snapshot for why the demographic is considered key in elections.

Latinos make up 30 percent of Goshen’s population and 16 percent of Elkhart County’s, while 54 percent of Goshen High School students are Latino. And the Latino population is growing, according to statistics Aguirre provided.

The community also has powerful voices. Aguirre helped lead the organization that opposed and derailed a proposal to build an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Elkhart County in early 2018.

He attributed the success of the cause in part to large local employers who rely on immigrant labor. Business and government leaders feared the proposed facility would send a negative message that the county is not open to diversity and repel Latinos and immigrants from living and working in the area, he said.

Merino believes recruiting talent from other countries, as well as building better systems for developing domestic talent, is crucial for America to remain competitive globally.

“The basis for what should be is one where we are seeking talent; we’re trying to identify talent to be part of this American experiment,” Merino said.

President Trump’s rhetoric, targeting undocumented immigrants from Central and South America, is detrimental to both international recruitment and addressing immigration reform, Merino believes. Immigrants and their families also become marginalized in society.

“If you demonize one segment in order to make yourself popular, we’re never going to fix the situation,” he said. “More than anything else, the rhetoric that gets used nationally in terms of immigrants, it makes for a tearing away of our American fiber.”

Merino, the son of Hispanic immigrants, agrees with the White House that the country needs stronger border security and a reformed immigration system. He disagrees with Trump’s insistence in building a wall along the border with Mexico, calling it logistically impossible.

“I don’t believe that we need a wall. We need more than a wall,” Merino said, citing, for example, fixing visa waiver inefficiencies.

Going back to Geovanny Almiray, he believes improved border security shouldn’t just mean targeting Mexico.

“You can fight bad people anywhere, not only from Mexico. You can fight bad people anywhere - American, Cuban, people from Spain, from Germany, anywhere,” Almiray said.

Almiray also believes stronger borders shouldn’t mean closing the country to immigrants, saying “America is country that opens their arms for everybody.”

Aimee Ambrose can be reached at aimee.ambrose@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 316.