Democratic Hispanic groups call Trump campaign’s Florida outreach “laughable”

Florida Immigrant Coalition photo

With Vice President Pence coming to Miami to try to mobilize Hispanic Floridians behind President Trump, Latino politicos affiliated with the Democratic Party are speaking out against the president.

They point to the anti-Hispanic tone of Trump’s rhetoric and policies from the beginning of his 2016 campaign – including the federal immigration detention centers that Trump has been filling to overflowing with Hispanic asylum seekers. They also cite SB 168, the Florida sanctuary city crackdown that Trump ally Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law.

In that context, the Trump campaign’s outreach to Florida’s more than 4.2 million Latinos is “laughable,” said Mayra Macias, vice president of Latino Victory. Speaking at a  news conference organized by the Florida Democratic Party, she added: “This repugnant political ploy is just another example of Trump’s disdain for our community.”

“It is abundantly clear to us in the community – those of us doing this work – that if Donald Trump wins, nothing good will come for our community,” Macias said. “The good news is that Latinos have the power to change that. By 2020, the Latino electorate will be the largest ethnic non-white voting bloc in this country, and there is no state where the Latino vote is more important than the state of Florida.”

In a press conference, Evelyn Pérez-Verdia described how her family was driven from Colombia by the same kind of violence now sending Hispanic asylum seekers to the United States. She said the Hispanic advocates speaking out this week aren’t pushing for open U.S. borders, but she did urge Latin American immigrants to remember that they once benefitted by asylum themselves.

“Growing up in Latin American country, people may be impoverished. But they are not filthy; they are not dirty people, and they should not be treated like animals. The children who are being held should be given a right to soap; should be given a right to clean clothes; should be given a right to toothbrushes; should be given a right to be with their family members,” she said.

Trump’s pitch to Hispanic voters is that they are prospering under his leadership and that he has taken on repressive governments in Cuba and Venezuela. Some 150,000 Venezuelans have fled to Florida to get away from deteriorating conditions under Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Gov. DeSantis and Trump have been courting Maduro’s challenger, Venezuela National Assembly President Juan Guaido. DeSantis had Guaido’s wife as a guest at the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee.

As part of the Republicans’ political offensive, Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, co-chair of the “Latinos for Trump” campaign, wrote an op-ed for the Miami Herald saying Trump  “has called for democracy and civil rights to be restored in the Western Hemisphere and enacted economic and diplomatic sanctions for the world’s bad actors, sending a strong message that America will not tolerate oppression.”

That message is reverberating in some quarters – particularly among Cuban Americans, judging by a recent Telemundo poll. The poll found that only 34 percent of Hispanic voters in Florida would vote to re-elect Trump, while 56 percent prefer a Democrat. Among Cuban Americans, however, the numbers were flipped: 57 percent for Trump and 32 percent for replacing him.

Democratic officials argue that Trump’s policies aren’t helping Hispanics. Only 7 percent of Hispanics have benefited from the GOP tax cuts and 35.5 million will pay an average of $251 more in taxes per year, the Democrats say. Furthermore, Trump’s campaign against immigrant “dreamers” could remove 685,000 workers from the economy, according to a fact sheet the party prepared. The document also says fewer Hispanics are covered by health insurance under Republican policies.

Melissa Taveras, a spokeswoman for FLIC Votes, an arm of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, described the panic she heard among Hispanics over the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s aborted plan to round up immigrant families beginning this week. Her office has been inundated by callers worried about the raids, including Cubans and Venezuelans, she said.

“They have done nothing to help the Venezuelans here,” said Liz Alarcon, an activist in that community.

“What they have done is spew the same populist rhetoric that Venezuelans are fleeing from the Chavez and Maduro regime, by speaking words that are incendiary and that are stoking false hope that this administration will do something to help Venezuelans here,” Alarcon said.

The government sent 463 Cuban immigrants back to their home country last year, said Frank Mora, a Cuban American professor of international relations at Florida International University who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Western Hemisphere between 2009 and 2013.

“Although people think that the Cuban-American community is somehow privileged by migration policy – and that may have been true – under this administration Cuban Americans are now being deported in larger and larger numbers,” he said. “While the administration and the president with one hand says he wants to help the Cuban American community, on the left (hand) his actions demonstrate something completely different.”

Florida is home to 1.5 million people of Puerto Rican heritage, and Orlando – where Trump launched his re-election campaign – boasts one of the country’s largest Puerto Rican communities, said Adriana Rivera, communications director for the group Alianza for Progress.

She found it galling that Trump would make a bid for the state’s Puerto Rican vote in light of his neglect of Puerto Rico’s recovery from 2017’s Hurricane Maria. Trump’s claim that the government spent $90 million on Maria relief was a lie, she added – the actual number was $13 million, and people died long after the storm because they didn’t have electricity, medicines, and properly operating hospitals.

“They died because of the inaction of an administration that has the audacity to ask the Puerto Ricans of this state for their votes again,” she said. “We cannot be neutral. We don’t have that luxury this time around.”

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