President Donald Trump asked voters to elect Republicans to Congress who will give him enough cash to build a massive border wall. He vowed to crack down on immigrants who commit crimes. And he blamed Democrats for supporting cities that refuse to cooperate with U.S. agencies trying to enforce immigration law.
“The new platform of the Democratic Party is radical socialism and open borders,” Trump told a raucous crowd at the Las Vegas Convention Center Thursday night.
But as he tries to appeal to voters in the swing state of Nevada where nearly one in five residents is an immigrant, Trump’s tough talk may end up motivating voters to help Democratic candidates in the midterm elections in November.
“For the Latino community, it is a huge issue. We’re living under an administration that has inflicted fear in our communities.” said Viridiana Vidal, state director for America’s Voice in Nevada. “I’m Latina. I’ve been living in Las Vegas for 15 years. And I know this is something that is moving my people. I know this is something that is moving my community.”
As Republicans try to hold onto control of Congress, Trump continues to campaign on immigration — often speaking about it at his campaign rallies, like the one he held in Las Vegas — even in states like Nevada that he lost to Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump has campaigned in other states with high immigrant populations, including Florida, Texas and California, where polls show Hispanics are already more likely to vote for Democrats than Republicans.
“All over the world, they’re going to be pouring into California,” Trump said Thursday. “Republicans want to protect the safety net for the truly needed Americans. People who need help. Not for illegal aliens who come into our country illegally.”
Inside the convention center, the crowd chanted “build the wall” even before Trump mentioned the wall. Outside, a small group of protesters gathered, one holding a sign “my mom was an immigrant.”
In recent weeks, Trump has seized on calls by several prominent Democrats for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to be either abolished or reworked and dubbed it “soft on crime.”
“The president’s focus on real immigration enforcement resonates with Hispanic citizens, whether native-born or legal immigrant,” said Steve Cortes, a Trump ally who served on his Hispanic Advisory Council during the 2016 campaign and is serving on his 2020 Trump re-election committee. “Tacitly approving of illegal crossings, as our federal government has permitted for decades, is not only counterproductive to our national and economic security, but also highly insulting and unfair to legal immigrants, like my own father, who go through a lengthy and difficult process to become legal new Americans.”
Trump won the GOP nomination and the presidency in 2016 in part through promises to crack down on illegal immigration and end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals that offered so-called Dreamers temporary, renewable work permits.
Nationwide, Trump captured 28 percent of the Latino vote, according to exit polls, though those numbers are widely disputed by Hispanic political groups. Clinton won 66 percent. Latinos represented 11 percent of the American electorate that year, according to the Pew Research Center.
Trump’s rally Thursday was in part to support Sen. Dean Heller, who is considered the most vulnerable Republican in the Senate. Trump blasted Heller’s opponent, Democrat Jacky Rosen, for voting against a law that would stiffen penalties for immigrants caught illegally re-entering the country after being deported and defending sanctuary cities that protect illegal immigrants.
“It’s true, Nevada does have a high share of its population who are immigrants, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the president’s message on immigration will be unpopular,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, which seeks to curb immigration. “From my experience many people in Nevada are supportive of strong border security and enforcement.”
Vaughan said that Nevada has had problems with transnational gangs, especially MS-13, and Mexican drug cartels that have contributed to crime in the state. And, she said, law enforcement agencies in Las Vegas have cooperated with ICE.
An estimated 27 million Latinos are eligible to vote nationwide, but Hispanics traditionally don’t turn out to vote in large numbers during midterm elections. Fewer than 7 million Hispanics voted in the 2014 congressional election, according to the Pew Research Center.
Latinos see the 2018 election as pivotal, according to a National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials tracking poll. But they also feel they’re being ignored.
Arturo Vargas, NALEO’s executive director, said he expects a higher turnout this year than in 2014, but doesn’t expect a game-changing shift until parties more actively reach out to Latinos. He said both parties are ignoring Latino voters.
In the battleground state of Florida, Latinos make up more than one of every six registered voters. In Texas, they make up one out of every four registered voters. Both states are home to competitive Senate races this year. More than 1 million Latin voters will cast ballots in both Texas and Florida, according to NALEO.
“This is the just the same old song we hear over and over and over again,” he said. “It’s really sad that these political parties just don’t get it. They need to invest. They need to do the hard work. But they’re lazy.”