PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA — The Republican National Convention featured vocally anti-immigrant Sheriff Joe Arpaio on its main stage, along with several other speakers who portrayed immigrants as criminals and terrorists. The Democratic National Convention featured, on its opening night, two undocumented immigrants telling their personal stories. The contrast was as clear as the message: that Democrats are the only party that respects Latino voters.
Yet away from the stage lights, Latino participants at the DNC and those marching in the surrounding streets said they’re frustrated with what they see as the party’s inability to confront its own mixed record on deportations, refugees, and Latin American policy.
“It’s not enough to say to minorities, ‘Trump wants to deport you,’ so you should vote for us,” said Erika Andiola, the former Latino press secretary for Bernie Sanders. “Fear tactics, for me, are not empowering.”
Recent polling indicates that the vast majority of Latino voters will side with Hillary Clinton this November. But even those who say they will vote for her, such as 19-year-old Tana Quillupangui from New York City, say they have serious concerns and reservations.
“The Democrats have issues that they have to work on,” she told ThinkProgress, noting that even when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House, they did not pass comprehensive immigration reform. “There have been so many promises that they’re going to do something about immigration, and they use it as a political platform to get votes. But they really have to keep their promises this year. They have to act.”
Democrats’ mixed record
Quillupangui, a New York City native, said many people in her community are undocumented, and many have had family members deported. She and many other Latino voters at the DNC brought up the Obama administration’s aggressive record of raids and deportations of more than 2 million immigrants. A new wave of these deportations specifically targeting Central American children and their parents began earlier this summer.
Legal experts say many of these recently arrived migrants, who have come by the tens of thousands over the past couple years fleeing violence in Central America, should qualify for asylum. Hillary Clinton, who this Thursday accepts the Democratic Party nomination, said earlier in her campaign that Central American asylum seekers should be deported, arguing that allowing them to stay would motivate more people to risk their lives crossing the border. She later came out against the Obama administrations raids and deportations of Central American migrants.
Why do we have a record number of deportations?
This week’s leak of internal DNC e-mails revealed that party leaders wanted to keep quiet on the issue.
“We’re not going to get into a fight on the Central Americans specifically,” one e-mail read. “We’re going to focus on Republican obstruction.”
Another leaked communication lays out how to cultivate “Hispanic brand loyalty,” calling Latino voters “customers” and saying they are the “most loyal…in the world.”
All this makes some Latinos wary of the Democratic Party.
“We want to make sure the Latino community can really trust what is being promised here,” said Andiola. “Saying, ‘I’m going to give you immigration reform in my first 100 days’ is a promise that has already been made. It’s great and I hope it happens, but at the same time we need to have a conversation about why our people are ending up in detention centers. Why do we have a record number of deportations? Our folks have seen that happen under a Democratic administration.”
Hundreds of people have been marching in the streets of Philadelphia this week to call attention to these issues. On Monday, activists from across the country called for a complete moratorium on deportations. Another protest called attention to Clinton’s support for a military coup in Honduras in 2009 and invoked the memories of the environmental activists killed since the coup took place.
“It’s important to have accountability for Hillary Clinton for the role she had in undermining democracy in Honduras,” said Cindy Wiesner with the group Grassroots Global Justice Alliance. “This is an Achilles Heel for Secretary Clinton and a warning sign about her militaristic foreign policy.”
Wiesner, a Salvadoran-American voter in the key swing state of Florida, told ThinkProgress that even in light of Trump’s “hate and racism and xenophobia and discrimination,” she is not yet ready to vote for Clinton.
“We’re afraid of what is going to continue under the Democratic Party,” she said. “Hillary Clinton cannot take the Latino vote foregranted. We need to hear some real policy commitments and not false promises.”
An argument for Clinton
As the leaked DNC e-mail recommended, the Latino speakers at the DNC stuck to touting what the Obama Administration and Hillary Clinton have done for immigrants and Latinos.
Nevada activist Astrid Silva, who came to the U.S. undocumented at age four, talked about how President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program allowed her to come out of the shadows and work without fear of being deported. In one of the most emotional speeches of the evening, 11-year-old Karla Ortiz stood with her undocumented mother and said Democratic policies will help her grow up to be a lawyer who can help other immigrant families.
“We know that Hillary will fight for all our families,” she said in Spanish. “Together, we can make it possible.”
But the speakers focused far more on Donald Trump’s threats to Latinos than Clinton’s accolades, noting that he and his political allies have vowed mass deportations, imposing a religious test on immigrants, and building a massive wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
“When Donald Trump talks about deporting 11 million people, he’s talking about ripping families apart, like mine and Karla’s,” Silva said. “Hillary Clinton understands that this is not who we are as a country.”
In the evening’s keynote address, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) also hammered away at the GOP nominee. “Trump and his campaign have embraced it all. Racial hatred. Religious bigotry. Attacks on immigrants, on women, on gays,” she said to massive applause. “A deceitful and ugly blame game that says, whatever worries you, the answer is to blame that other group, and don’t put any energy into making real change.”
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), one of Clinton’s highest-profile Latino supporters and longtime crusader for immigration reform, told ThinkProgress before his speech that Latino voters will decide the 2016 election: “We will turn out to vote in unprecedented numbers. Why? Because we are living under the threat of Donald Trump.”
“Donald Trump is pushing a fantasy, and it’s a cruel fantasy: deport 11 million people, destroy those families, separate those children from their parents,” he said in Spanish. “So I say to young people: please come out and vote, because Donald Trump would love for you to stay home.”
If Latino voters don’t turn out, according to a new analysis, it could cost Clinton the election.