Speculation is rife that Donald Trump could change his hard-line stance on immigration to gain voters. For many Latinos, it’s simply too late. Hecko Flores reports from Washington, DC.
The topic of immigration has been one of the cornerstones of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Trump’s movement first gained momentum through his unfiltered and controversial comments regarding immigration. His tentative policies, such as creating a deportation task force and building a border wall with Mexico, have alienated most Latino voters.
“The politicians that want to talk negatively about us are losing much,” says Margarita Dilone, the daughter of immigrants from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
Dilone is the president of Crystal Insurance Group, one of the first insurance agencies to offer bilingual customer service in Washington, DC. Now 54, she has been in charge of the family business for over 30 years.
Unlike the Trump campaign, Dilone sees the immigrant influx as an opportunity for businesses to grow. Her business has benefited greatly as she has catered to the growing Latino community in the nation’s capital.
She runs her the DC neighborhood of Adams Morgan, which has historically been a home for Latin American immigrants and their families.
Dilone takes enormous pride and satisfaction in working with and helping the Latino community. She was raised in the neighborhood and has experienced first hand the community’s improvements.
“Immigrants are risk takers, they already took a huge risk leaving everything behind to come to this country, and they are the type of people who aren’t afraid of starting a new business,” says Dilone, whose immigrant parents opened up a grocery store in the early 1960s that specialized in Latin American goods.
The United States Census reports a continuous increase in the number of Latinos in the country. Over 55 million people in the US are of Hispanic origin, making up the nation’s largest racial minority.
According to the Pew Research Center the number of Latinos eligible to vote in 2016 is 27.3 million, an increase of 17 percent on 2012, the last presidential election.
A Latino decision?
The Trump campaign has recently taken a special interest in those numbers, prompting the candidate to meet with Latino leaders to find a way to appeal to these voters just months before election day in November.
The Latino vote could decide the election despite being a population known to be politically apathetic and turning out in low numbers at the polls.
Dilone, however, believes things will be different this year. Trump’s comments have encouraged many Latinos to register to vote in order to cast a ballot against him.
“One of my oldest clients, who has lived here as a legal resident for years, applied for citizenship just to be able to vote in this election. It is an important election to all of us,” says Dilone who wants to see a politically active Latino community.
Dilone is a part of the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce along with more than other 650 members and has also participated in the Latino Community Development Commission of the District of Columbia government.
“I think that we, the business owners, need to set an example and get involved,” says Dilone. “It is important to become citizens, for us to vote and make our voices be heard.”
True to his volatile character, Trump recently said that he would be open to “softening” laws to help undocumented immigrants already living in the US. “We’re not looking to hurt people,” he said during an interview at a town hall in Austin, Texas.
It was a stark contrast to his earlier comments of “rounding up” immigrants and deporting them, remarks that played an enormous role in his campaign and in clinching the Republican presidential nomination.
But Trump assured his followers that he still plans to build a border wall and that “it gets higher and higher and higher every time somebody says that I’m not going to build it.”
Dilone, like the majority of Latinos, finds it unthinkable to support Trump during the election. “We provide so much and enrich the culture here; what he says it’s nonsense,” she says.
According to data collected in June by the Pew Research Center, only 24 percent of Hispanic registered voters backed Trump while Hillary Clinton was backed by 66 percent.
A Gallup poll from June showed that 13 percent of Hispanics born outside of the US favored Trump, while 29 percent of US-born Hispanics did. Clinton had the advantage in both categories with 87 percent and 43 percent respectively.
It is unlikely that a change in Trump’s stance on immigration would guarantee him a significant amount of votes from the Latino community. It would, however, possible mean he would loose the backing of some of his most fervent supporters from the early days of his campaign.