Republican Immigration Rhetoric Leaves Growing Latino Population Feeling Disenfranchised Although the Latino population is growing fast in Charlotte, N.C., it's not nearly as politically engaged. The GOP says they want their vote. But many Latinos feel alienated by the candidate options.

Republican Immigration Rhetoric Leaves Latino Population Feeling Disenfranchised

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin, and this is For The Record.


DONALD TRUMP: We're going to stop it, and we're going to build a wall. We're going to also...


TRUMP: We can't have this, folks. We don't have a country anymore. You know, I'm looking at statistics where your crime numbers are so crazy, they're going through the roof.

MARTIN: That was Donald Trump at a rally this past week in Orange County, Calif., talking again about the wall he wants to build along the U.S. border with Mexico. Meanwhile, outside there were protesters speaking out against his immigration proposals and carrying Mexican flags. And just like that, immigration is back on the front burner in the GOP primary.

We told you back in January about the dramatically changing demographics in Charlotte, N.C., which has seen a massive influx of Latino immigrants in the past decade. Some are here illegally, but many are now U.S. citizens. And the GOP has been saying for years they want their vote. After the 2012 election, Reince Priebus, the chairman of the RNC, said the party would spend big money to reach out to Hispanic voters.


REINCE PRIEBUS: We're going to be announcing a $10 million initiative just this year in which it will include hundreds of people paid across the country, from coast to coast, in Hispanic, African-American, Asian communities, talking about our party.

MARTIN: We went back to Charlotte this past week to see how Latinos are weighing their choices in the election and whether that Republican outreach has worked. For The Record this week, back to Mecklenburg County.


MARTIN: The last time we were in Charlotte in January, we met a woman named Vanessa Faura. She's a working mother of three, originally from Peru. And she's a Republican. Back then, she was deciding between Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. Now, three months later, both candidates are out, and Vanessa Faura is despondent.

VANESSA FAURA: I've never thought that I would ever feel this way about an upcoming election - ever. Even when I was undecided, I have never felt this anxiety or frustration and sadness. And it's like - what am I going to do? And it's painful.

MARTIN: We're going to spend some time digging into that pain. But first, we should remind you about the changes Charlotte has seen.

ASTRID CHIRINOS: We're in a transition right now, and this county is actually 55 percent nonwhite. So we know that this is growing. There's no going backwards.

MARTIN: This is Astrid Chirinos.

CHIRINOS: I'm Venezuelan by birth, but a Charlottean by choice.

MARTIN: She's with a group called the Latin American Economic Development Corporation of Charlotte. We met her at the Levine Museum of the New South.

Astrid is what you'd call a mover and a shaker. She's just got one of those personalities. Everybody seems to know her, and she's immensely proud of the contributions the Latinos here have made to the economy and the culture. She walks us around the museum.

CHIRINOS: Carlos Machicao, he's an internationally known - well - designer. Judge Albert Diaz...

MARTIN: Astrid Chirinos is quick to acknowledge that even though the population is growing fast, Latinos aren't nearly as politically engaged. Only 4 percent of the voting population turned out in the last election.

CHIRINOS: We have 100,000 that could be registered to vote and are not. So we're working on creating that civic engagement so they understand that they belong.

MARTIN: She says the presidential primary has made Latinos here feel even more disenfranchised. Yes, there are the obvious things - Donald Trump and the wall and the promise for mass deportations. But there are also the other candidates who Astrid Chirinos says just never connected with Latino voters.

CHIRINOS: I will tell you - if the 17 candidates that ran for the Republican Party were an example of how they are planning to provide a platform or show how they engage with the immigrant communities, I would say definitely they had missed the mark.

MANOLO BETANCUR: Four years ago, Republicans were saying the same thing. Oh, we want to be more friendly to the immigrants. We want to be more with the Hispanics, with the minorities.

MARTIN: This is Manolo Betancur. I met him outside his bakery on Central Avenue on the East Side of Charlotte. He's not happy with the GOP.

BETANCUR: They didn't pass the reform. They didn't come to help small businesses. They didn't come to help, you know, the minorities. This country doesn't have enough people to pay the Social Security, you know. They need the immigrants.

MARTIN: Manolo and his wife Zhenia Martinez bought this bakery from her parents about five years ago. In the early days, they would sell their bread to immigrants who were working on farms outside Charlotte. Now their bread and pastries are sold in Harris Teeter grocery stores around North Carolina.

BETANCUR: Sorry about the mess. We just...

MARTIN: It's called Las Delicias, which is perfect because delight is the only thing that can come from eating caramel-filled churros churned out by hand.

So this is the churro machine?

BETANCUR: Yeah, the churro machine.

MARTIN: Imported from Mexico.

BETANCUR: Mexico. '85.

MARTIN: Manolo Betancur's family business is doing well. And he and his wife are building a good life for their two kids. But he says this election has stirred up a kind of overt discrimination that he hasn't felt before.

BETANCUR: Right now, with Trump, you know, he's increasing the hate in this country. All the people that was quiet, now, you know, they feel that. Now this guy is talking, so we can talk again, you know. We can talk...

MARTIN: Have you sensed that? Like, it's...

BETANCUR: Oh, yes, I have.

MARTIN: People are more emboldened by him?

BETANCUR: Before it was harder to see ugly faces. Now anyone, you know, can make an ugly face.

MARTIN: Anyone can make an ugly face. He means anyone can say something racist or discriminatory or just unwelcoming. Betancur says he's voting for Hillary Clinton. But we heard from other Latino immigrants here who are leaning towards Donald Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Which of these candidates are you more likely to vote for in the 2016 presidential election - Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, other or undecided?

MARTIN: We're at a phone bank run by a group called The Libre Initiative. On the group's website, it says they work to, quote, "inform the U.S. Hispanic community about the benefits of a constitutionally limited government." About a dozen or so volunteers wearing bright blue T-shirts are situated around a few tables on the back patio of an apartment complex. Each of them wears a headset and reads off survey questions.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Are you Hispanic/Latino origin or descent? Yes?

MARTIN: Vanessa Faura is one of the organizers of this phone bank. You heard her at the beginning of our story telling us she feels incredibly conflicted about who to vote for this year because she just doesn't like her options. I say down with her at her home the morning after the phone bank.

FAURA: Hello.

MARTIN: Hi. Sorry.

FAURA: No, you're fine.

MARTIN: She told me she voted for Marco Rubio the primary. And now she doesn't know what to make of Donald Trump and especially his immigration proposals. She wonders if maybe it's just the kind of outrageous stuff politicians say in primaries. And if elected, maybe Trump really wouldn't deport the 11 million who are here illegally.

FAURA: It's just unrealistic more than anything. It would be a disaster, I think. And it would give us a very bad reputation at the end of the day because it will get ugly. And I don't think it's a realistic thing to have, like, to implement, period. So I honestly believe that what he's saying now is just another political playing card.

MARTIN: How do you approach the issue of illegal immigration? I mean, your family did it the, quote, "right way."

FAURA: Right.

MARTIN: You say you have relationships with people who are undocumented. How do you view their situation?

FAURA: Their situation specifically, it's pretty sad because the people that I know are very hard-working people. Some of them own their own business in North Carolina. Several of them are women who work hard and now are business owners, yet undocumented, living the American dream and still have to be scared when they're hopping into their car to go to work.

So can you imagine? If I have a police car behind mine, I get a little bit nervous. I shouldn't. There's nothing to fear, right? I have my driver's license. I'm a good citizen, nothing to hide. Still, I get nervous. I get a little bit anxious. Can you imagine people like that who are undocumented, cannot have a driver's license because they're not allowed? So on that side, you know, I'm compassionate. But we also have people that take advantage of the system. As an American, that angers me. It angers a lot of people.

MARTIN: Then she tells me a story. Vanessa stopped working for a while to be a stay-at-home mom, so she was pinching pennies. And she was always looking for the best deal at the grocery store.

FAURA: And I always started my shopping, especially in the cereal section, from bottom to up, right, because I know at the bottom they have, like, the cheapest, probably oldest (laughter) cereal boxes there that they go on discount. But then I saw all the other women who just picked whatever, you know. And then when they get in front of me to pay, they're paying with food stamps. And then they're hopping into, like, these nice cars and I know their husbands are working somewhere with a construction company making a lot of money cash, right.

So I can see why people are angry because I've seen it myself. And this is why a lot of Latinos who are for Trump are voting for him - because they are angry at that.

MARTIN: So here Vanessa Faura, this committed Republican from an immigrant background, and she, too, says she feels ignored by the GOP.

FAURA: You know, if you believe in something and you really want it real bad, it's not just that you have to say it and get out there and have these great speeches about how we need to outreach the minority groups. What really shows that you really, really care and that you really want this is you put money on it.

MARTIN: We should say here that conservatives are giving money to groups like hers. In fact, The Libre Initiative is funded by the Koch brothers who, according to NPR, have put hundreds of millions of dollars into winning over various voter groups, including Hispanics. Even so, Vanessa Faura thinks the GOP as a whole hasn't done a good enough job of bringing Latino voters into the tent. And all of this has left this proud Republican with an unsettled feeling.

FAURA: Just to think what's going to happen in November and just to think that I'm going to get in my car, head to the polling location, show my ID (laughter) and then get in front of that screen, anything could happen. I have never voted for a Democrat, and I don't think I ever will. But then again, when I'm in front of that screen, anything can happen.

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