Will Latinos Vote for Trump?

Donald Trump, who began his presidential campaign by indiscriminately accusing Mexican immigrants of being the worst people from Mexican society—criminals, drug dealers, and rapists—now says he loves Latinos and will win the majority of their votes next year.  When an exuberant Latina gushed over him at a recent campaign event, declaring her love for Trump and her determination to vote for him, surprised observers began to ask, “Can he really do it?  Will Latinos forgive Trump of his earlier insults and mark their ballots for him?

It is likely that the eventual Republican nominee for President will win some Latino votes.  Unlike African-Americans, who have been voting overwhelmingly for Democrats since the early 1960s, Latinos have split their votes among Democrats and Republicans in the last several election cycles to varying degrees, depending on the positions held by the candidates.

Latinos do not all have the same political interests.  They live at all levels of socioeconomic status, not just at the entry level.  Many own small, medium, and large businesses.  The percentage of college graduates and professionals among Latinos has been climbing steadily upward for years.  In addition, Latinos tend to be more fervently religious than the average American.  Most Latinos are pro-life, pro-family, and pro-opportunity, even as they expect government to help the most vulnerable members of society.  In the end, however, they will vote for the candidate they believe offers the best path to a prosperous future for everyone.

There is great solidarity among Latinos in America, the overwhelming majority of whom are in favor of comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship for those who came illegally. Still, a trickle of Latinos will vote for Trump purely on the allure of his celebrity.  Those few votes will not deliver the Latino electorate to Trump in 2016.

If Donald Trump is serious about winning Latino votes, he should do the following.  First, he should speed up the moderation of his language about immigration, enthusiastically and specifically recognizing the strong contributions that Latinos have made and continue to make in American society.  He should admit in his hyperbolic style that the vast majority of them are “great people, the best people.”

Second, he should start adding some specifics to his plan for how he will restore the rule of law in America.  Since he has promised that undocumented immigrants will have to leave America and be punished for breaking the law before they can come back through the “big, beautiful door” he has promised to put in his “big beautiful wall,” he might try a quip about how building the wall will create jobs for construction workers who are willing to do hard labor under the hot sun. He has, after all, promised that Mexicans will build the wall.

In order to keep his promise to make all the undocumented immigrants leave America so “the best of them” may come back through his big door, he might define the process by which they will (1) leave the country, (2) pay a fine for breaking American law, (3) request a visa to re-enter, and (4) return to their jobs and the businesses they own and the homes they owe mortgage payments on.  Since foreign embassies and consulates are technically not American soil, he could simply send them to their consular offices to fill out their paperwork and pay their fines.  Money from those fines would help finance visas for them, creating jobs that he might outsource to new private businesses formed to process the paperwork efficiently.

Very, very few undocumented immigrants in America would fail to “self-deport” to their consulates and gladly pay the fines that would legalize their status in America.  Justice would be served, the rule of law would stand vindicated, a new comprehensive reform bill could pass the Congress under the leadership of President Trump, and the kinfolk of undocumented Latinos would be grateful for the solution of our immigration dilemma:  all promises kept, all souls satisfied.

If Trump wants to win Latino votes, he will have to show them a lot more love than he has done so far.  He will have to show how his presidency would offer them great opportunities to prosper.  Like everyone else, Latinos can forgive their enemies.  But Trump needs to redeal and play his cards right if he truly expects to earn their votes.

Dr. Joseph Castleberry is president of Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington.  He is the author of The New Pilgrims:  How Immigrants are Renewing America’s Faith and Values.