A few weeks ago, I joined many evangelicals—a number of Hispanics among them—in New York City for “A Conversation About America's Future with Donald Trump and Ben Carson.” Trump was asked a “softball” question by a Hispanic leader: “You have often spoken of building a wall for our southern border, but how will you build a bridge to Hispanics, the fastest growing demographic in our nation?”
Trump’s answer was hardly satisfactory (more of that below). But it isn’t as if we Hispanics have a great deal of confidence in Hillary Clinton on this matter. She—and President Obama—voted for the Secure Fence Act in 2006, which would have added 700 miles of double fencing to the border.
As the 2016 Republican and Democratic conventions get underway, the pop song title “Cuándo, Cuándo, Cuándo (When, When, When)” seems to capture Hispanic sentiment about the presumptive candidates in America. While what follows is perhaps presumptive to a fault, it may offer some thoughts from a Hispanic point of view about the “contest of negatives” that is Election 2016. If white Americans are feeling tepid about the final two candidates, Hispanics are perhaps even more disenchanted, wondering when either Trump or Clinton will emerge as a leader Hispanics can entirely support.
Clinton’s Rhetoric—and Reality
Hispanic Democrats—some 60 percent of registered Hispanic voters—are asking when their candidate will respond more fully to this 55 million person and growing minority. To begin with, when will the party’s leaders follow through on their lingering promise to reform our broken immigration system? Though we often hear that immigration ranks fourth among issues (after the economy, education, and health care) for Hispanic voters, it is clearly the “gateway issue” for many Hispanics, who are calling on Clinton to deliver what Obama did not. Clinton is saying all the right things. She will create “the first ever Office of Immigrant Affairs.” She is “committed to introducing comprehensive immigration reform and a path to legitimate citizenship within the first 100 days of [her] presidency.” She will “end family detention, close private immigrant detention centers, and help more eligible people become naturalized.” Instead of advocating for building a wall, she promises to “tear down barriers” that have kept Hispanics from succeeding more fully.
Yet as I noted above, many Hispanics like me struggle with the perceived divide between Clinton’s rhetoric and her record. In addition to voting for the Secure Fence Act as recently as last year, she seemed to flaunt the fact that she voted “numerous times” for a “barrier” to block illegal immigrants coming from the south. Also, when the Central American immigrant crisis first hit, she was quick to say that deportation was in order. As Latino analyst Alfonso Aguilar notes, “Some Hispanic voters see her as opportunistic.”
In addition, some Democratic Catholics and evangelical Hispanics worry that Clinton’s abortion stance has followed party lines and diverged from her earlier, more moderate position. The Clintons’ abortion mantra has been that it should be “safe, legal, and rare,” but recently Hillary has dropped the “R-word” when she speaks about the topic. She has also advocated for ending the pro-life Hyde Amendment, first enacted in 1976 and passed in some form ever since, which prevents taxpayer funding of elective abortions through federal programs like Medicaid. Perhaps most troubling was her recent statement at a Women in the World Conference where she suggested that in order to expand worldwide access to abortion, “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed.”