MANCHESTER, NH — When Bedford, New Hampshire resident Letezia Ortiz was parking her car during a recent shopping trip, the garage attendant noticed her accent and asked where she was from. When she told him he was from Mexico, he asked, “Are there Mexicans who aren’t criminals?”
For Ortiz, who became a citizen about a decade ago, it was yet another troubling sign of the power of Donald Trump, who won first place in the New Hampshire primary Tuesday night by a double-digit margin.
“I think people are really being impacted by what Donald Trump is saying,” she told ThinkProgress. “The media keeps carrying his message insulting immigrants, and all the people who hear it are believing him. I have two kids who were born here but are still Mexican, and I’m scared for them.”
Exit polling from the first-in-the-nation primary found that Trump did best Tuesday with voters who are “very worried” about terrorism, those who support deporting undocumented immigrants, and those who favor banning all Muslim immigration to the U.S., which Trump has proposed. In fact, two-thirds of all Republican voters polled said they supported such a ban.
For Eva Castillo, a Venezuelan national who has lived in New Hampshire since 1982, watching Trump’s popularity grow in her state has been “really scary.”
“Trump has the right to run on any platform he wants, but what really freaks me out to see how many here [in New Hampshire] agree with the hateful message that immigrants are a bunch of criminals,” she told ThinkProgress. “That tells me I live surrounded by people who believe in that filth and they’ve just been afraid to express it, including my neighbors and people in my own family.”
Castillo works as a community organizer in Manchester — the largest and most diverse city in the small, fairly homogeneous state. She is part of a multi-year, multi-city initiative in New Hampshire to make the state more welcoming to immigrants, and has dedicated herself this year to fostering dialogue between those born in New Hampshire and those newly arrived from other countries. She hosts “conversation cafes,” takes groups of immigrants and refugees to visit local churches, and helps them learn how to testify at City Hall.
CREDIT: Alice Ollstein
Though New Hampshire, rightly, has the reputation for being older, whiter, and wealthier than the national population, the state is seeing a massive demographic shift. A full third of the voters who turned out to the polls this week are either new to the state or newly of voting age. Those new voters are more diverse and more progressive than the hundreds of thousands of New Hampshire-ites who have passed away or left the state since the last election. The number of Latino voters in the state has tripled since 1990.
Though the immigrant population remains small, it is steadily increasing, now close to 6 percent. More than half of those immigrants are naturalized and can vote. Immigrants have started thousands of small businesses in New Hampshire in the past, and have filled crucial labor shortages in the state’s hospitality and medical industries.
Yet many of the voters ThinkProgress talked to at Trump rallies around New Hampshire in the lead-up to the election echoed the words of the billionaire candidate, connecting immigration to terrorism, sexual violence, and crime.
“What if Al Qaeda and ISIS guys came across the border and are just waiting for the word, you know what I mean?” said one Trump supporter in Plymouth named Mickey, who declined to give his last name. When ThinkProgress pointed out that there have been zero documented cases of anyone crossing the U.S.-Mexico border to commit an act of terrorism, he responded, “They’re not going to hold up a flag saying, ‘I’m a terrorist.’ You’re not going to know it. That’s the thing.”
Trump is far from the only candidate to stoke these fears. Before dropping out of the race, Scott Walker and Rick Perry warned of terrorists crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who ended his campaign on Wednesday, suggested at a recent New Hampshire town hall that the government should track immigrants like FedEx packages. “We don’t need to put bar codes on people. God gave everyone bar codes right here,” he said, holding up his fingers.
Even Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), the son of Cuban immigrants, has abandoned his support for immigration reform and promoted a deportation and militarization-only model in his New Hampshire speeches.
“The other candidates are jumping on Trump’s bandwagon in insulting immigrants,” said Gustavo Moral, an Ecuadoran national who heads the group Vote Now New Hampshire. “Even those that once had a more moderate policy on immigration, now we don’t know whether they favor something more extreme.”
But no candidate trumped Trump, who this week called himself “king of the border” and said immigrants were bringing “tremendous crime” into the country. “You look at New Hampshire, the problems you have with these drugs,” he said Monday night. “We have people coming into this country and we don’t know who they are, where they’re from. Are they ISIS?”
New Hampshire voters ThinkProgress interviewed echoed Trump’s talking points characterizing immigrants as rapists, criminals, and welfare recipients, a trend that Castillo says shows the dire need for more community dialogue.
“It’s easy to bad-mouth and demonize someone you’ve never been in contact with,” she said. “We’re trying to make sure the Americans take the time to talk to people as people, connect as human beings.”
Castillo says the community has made so much racial progress since she first arrived — when people constantly asked her how she could be from South America if she’s white — but she’s worried Trump’s rhetoric on immigration could cause a major setback.
“We have these great initiatives to promote the integration of immigrants into the community, but it seems like these days, the negative message prevails,” she said. “I’ve been going on the local Christian talk radio show every Monday, and recently whenever I talk about integration, he immediately starts asking me about ‘illegals.'”
Morales said he worried that if voter turnout among the state’s roughly 22,000 eligible Latino voters remains low, the anti-immigrant rhetoric from politicians will only get worse. Speaking to ThinkProgress at a workshop on Saturday on the importance of voting, he noted that he had sent out hundreds of emails urging residents to attend, but only a small handful did.
One silver lining for the state’s Latino voters was the surprise second-place showing by Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), one of the last Republicans in the 2016 race who has not called for mass deportations. In debates and interviews, Kasich has pushed back on the anti-immigrant currents in his party, defending undocumented immigrants as “law-abiding” workers who are “providing valuable services.”