Lost in the fierce debate over Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s shifting immigration position is a focus on two other issues that one longtime GOP activist says should matter far more to Latinos: improving educational outcomes and spurring economic policies to encourage entrepreneurship.
That’s the view of Rick Aguilar, a small-business owner and a founder of the state’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Aguilar, a St. Paul native, ranks immigration reform as his fourth or fifth priority, expressing disenchantment with both parties over a topic he says has become more politically polarized in the last 15 years.
“It’s been a little trying, but isn’t that what immigration reform has been about all these years?” Aguilar said. “It’s been up and back and forward and it’s been complete chaos no matter who is going for it.”
Trump has turned off many Latino voters with his harsh rhetoric about Mexicans and his attacks earlier this summer on a federal judge, questioning his impartiality because of his Mexican heritage in a case involving Trump.
Trump in recent weeks appeared to be softening his hard line approach to immigration, even forming a Hispanic Advisory Council. That suddenly changed after a surprise, last-minute visit to Mexico last week where he met with President Enrique Peña Nieto to discuss U.S.-Mexico relations. In a fiery speech delivered in Arizona the same day as his Mexico visit, Trump doubled down on his harsh rhetoric. He vowed to expand deportation task forces in the United States, expand the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and have Mexico pay for the massive project.
Members of Trump’s council have resigned in protest, criticizing the nominee for what they called phony outreach to Latino Republicans.
Aguilar, however, is not prepared to drop his support of Trump.
“The reason I’m not jumping ship on Trump is, I don’t know if that whole immigration and what he’s talking about is really the way it’s going to work. Although it sounds confusing to a lot of people, it’s always been confusing,” Aguilar said.
Aguilar notes that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, his first choice for the GOP presidential nominee, had seemingly flip-flopped on immigration during the Republican primary. Among Democrats, Aguilar said that President Obama has let down Latinos by failing to advance immigration reform during his first term. He also has deported a record number of people during his administration.
Perhaps most vexing to Aguilar is how immigration reform has become a wedge issue, leaving him with little faith that Congress can effectively tackle the issue with bipartisan support. He argues that closing the achievement gap would improve the economic conditions of Latinos.
“I think that instead of the Latino community being taken aback, we should start looking at the practical reasons we should be considering who to vote for in this election,” Aguilar said. “I think both parties are guilty of not giving the Latino community a lot of consideration for the issues that we really have.”