WASHINGTON — Despite echoes of support at Donald Trump rallies for his plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a state that would play host to Trump’s trademark construction project was among the few that rejected him on Super Tuesday.
That state was Texas, home to 4.8 million eligible Latino voters. The Republican frontrunner — who dominated seven of 11 states on Tuesday — lost Texas and its Latino voters to Sen. Ted Cruz who represents the state on Capitol Hill. The proposed thousand mile wall, including Texas’ southern border, has become a key part of Trump’s brand as a candidate, as well his vow to deport 11 million immigrants already living in the United States.
“We have a country or we don’t, we have borders or we don’t have borders,” Trump said in his victory speech in Palm Beach on Tuesday, telling reporters that his tough immigration plan was non-negotiable.
Immigration tends to rise in the hierarchy of issues facing the Latino community when people face threats such as those Trump has proposed, said Sylvia Manzano, a principal at the polling and consulting firm Latino Decisions.
Considering about two-thirds of Latinos know an undocumented immigrant personally, the threat of mass deportation has hit home, Manzano said.
“The undocumented community and the citizen community are not two separate groups of people – they are intertwined,” she said. “They go to church with each other, their children go to school together…it’s an issue that means something in people’s everyday lives.”
Last November, 45 percent of Latino voters said they saw the GOP as hostile towards Latinos, according to a poll by Latino Decisions. When Mitt Romney was the Republican nominee in 2012, only 18 percent of Latinos said they felt hostility from Republicans.
On Tuesday, Cruz captured 37 percent of the Latino vote in the Texas primary, while Trump landed 26 percent to Sen. Marco Rubio’s 25 percent, a CNN exit poll showed.
In San Antonio, Maximo Anguiano, a 32-year-old Latino activist said the larger Latino community must unify in opposition to Trump, who Anguiano said has used Mexican-Americans as “scapegoats.”
“We need to come together to, at this point, agree that we want anyone in the White House who is not Trump,” said Anguiano, who works with Voto Latino, a grassroots leadership organization.
But despite their Cuban roots, two Republican alternatives to Trump aren’t much better on immigration policy, he said. Cruz has made similar vows to deport undocumented immigrants, while Rubio has said he would end Obama’s plan to allow undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children to remain in the U.S.
“Being Latino is a way of life. It’s a culture, it isn’t a surname,” Anguiano said in a phone interview. “To see these guys be the sons of immigrants is very disheartening.”
This is not what the Republican establishment planned for after the GOP’s failure to win the White House in 2012. After Romney’s loss to President Barack Obama, the Republican National Committee acknowledged a need to appeal to Latino voters, saying if Hispanic Americans feel as though Republicans don’t want them in the country, “they won’t pay attention to our next sentence.”
Although the RNC’s so-called “autopsy” report was a moment of clarity on the role Latinos play in American politics, there hasn’t been much follow-through, said Clarissa Martinez-de-Castro, deputy vice president of the National Council of La Raza.
“If you look at the strategy on the Republican side, it doesn’t seem like they got the memo,” she said during a forum about the Latino vote at American University on Monday. “We are seeing a very high intensity level of coliseum politics, where too many candidates are all too happy to feeds Latinos to the lions.”
Trump’s rhetoric on immigrants has also concerned Republicans who are cognizant of the growing Latino vote.
“Those who are attacking Latinos are bad at math, because they’re not understanding that they’re becoming a bigger part of the electorate,” said Glen Bolger, a Republican pollster, during the American U forum.
The Latino electorate is projected to grow to nearly 12 percent of eligible voters in the U.S. in 2016, according to data from Pew Research Center. However, their potential impact on the election could be stymied by low turnout rates — especially among millennials, who will make up almost half of eligible Latino voters this election year.
To get millennials out to the polls, it’s important that voting is not just seen as an act of self-defense but an act of empowerment, Martinez-de-Castro said.
In a Pew poll from October, 66 percent of potential GOP primary voters said immigration is a very important issue in their decision about who to vote for in 2016.
But if Republican candidate’s immigration rhetoric is relevant to voters in March, it’s unlikely to drift into the shadows anytime soon. In June, the Supreme Court is poised to rule on Obama’s executive actions to protect millions of immigrants from deportation. And no matter the court’s decision, Trump isn’t likely to keep quiet.