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Republican Immigration Rhetoric Leaves Latino Population Feeling Disenfranchised

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Immigration is back on the front burner in the Republican primary.

This past week, at a rally in Orange County, Calif., Donald Trump returned to talking 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.

Back in January, we reported about the dramatically changing demographics in Charlotte, which has seen a massive influx of Latino immigrants in the past decade. Charlotte, N.C. has one of the fastest growing Latino populations of any major city. 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 Republican National Committee, said the party would spend significant resources to reach out to Hispanic voters.

"We're going to be announcing a $10 million initiative just this year, which will include hundreds of people paid across the country from coast to coast — Hispanic, African-American, Asian communities talking about our party, talking about our brand," he said.

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.

This week on For the Record: back to Mecklenburg County, N.C.

Vanessa Faura

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

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

Before we dig deeper into that pain, we should first remind you about changes that Charlotte has seen.

"We're in a transition right now and this county is actually 55 percent nonwhite so we know that this is growing, no going backwards," says Astrid Chirinos, with the Latin American Economic Development Corporation of Charlotte.

Astrid Chirinos

Chirinos is what you'd call a mover and shaker. She's immensely proud of the contributions the Latinos here have made to the economy and the culture.

"I'm a Venezuelan by birth, but a Charlottean by choice," she says.

We met Chirinos at the Levine Museum of the New South, where she walked us around.

"Carlos Machicao, he's an internationally known designer. Judge Albert Diaz, he's Puerto Rican, now in the circuit court."

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.

"We have 100,000 who can be registered to vote and are not ... and many times they don't even apply because they think they're not going to pass the test or that there are going to be barriers," Chirinos says. "So we're working on creating that civic engagement so they understand that they belong."

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

"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 have missed the mark," she says.

Manolo Betancur

We met Manolo Betancur outside his bakery on Central Avenue on the East side of Charlotte. He's not happy with the GOP.

"Four years ago and the Republicans were saying the same thing: We want to be more friendly for the immigrants with the Hispanics and minorities," he says. "They didn't pass immigration reform. They didn't come to help small businesses, they didn't come to help minorities. This country doesn't have enough people to pay social security. They need immigrants."

Betancur and his wife Zhenia Martinez bought the bakery from her parents five years ago. In the early days, they'd sell their bread to immigrants working on farms outside of Charlotte. Now their baked goods are sold in Harris Teeter grocery stores around North Carolina. It's called Las Delicias, a fitting name for a bakery that sells churros, including some filled with caramel, churned out by hand.

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

"Right now with Trump, he's increasing the hate in this country. All the people that were quiet, now they're feeling: If this guy is talking we can talk again," he says, meaning 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 who are leaning towards Trump.

Proud Republican, Conflicted Latino Voter

Over at a phone bank run by The Libre Initiative, about a dozen or so volunteers are situated around a few tables on the back patio of an apartment complex. The group's website it says they work to "inform the U.S. Hispanic community about the benefits of a constitutionally limited government."

Vaness Faura is one of the organizers of the phone bank. As we mentioned before, she feels incredibly conflicted about who to vote for this year because she just doesn't like her options.

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

"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. I don't think it's a realistic thing to implement, period," she says. "So I honestly believe that what he's saying now is just another political playing card."

While Faura is a legal U.S. resident, she has sympathy for the people she knows who are undocumented.

"Their situation specifically, it's pretty sad, because the people that I know are very hardworking people, some of them own their own business, in North Carolina," she says. "Several of them are women who worked hard and now are business owners, yet, undocumented, living the American dream, and still have to be scared when they are hopping into their car to go to work. On a daily basis, if I have a police car behind mine, I get a little bit nervous. I shouldn't. I have my driver's license. Can you imagine people like that who are undocumented cannot have a driver's license, because they're not allowed?"

But, she says, "We also have people that take advantage of the system. As an American, that angers me. It angers a lot of people."

She explains with a story. When she stopped working for a while to be a stay at home mom, she was pinching pennies, always looking for the best deal at the grocery store.

"But then I saw all the other women who just picked whatever, and then when they get in front of me to pay, they're paying with the food stamps, and then they're hopping into these nice cars and I know their husbands are working somewhere with the 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."

So here's Vanessa Faura, a committed Republican from an immigrant background. And she too says she feels ignored by the GOP.

"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 to minority groups." She says. "That really shows that you really, really care and that you really want this, is that you put money on it."

We should point out here that conservatives are giving money to groups like hers. In fact, the Libre Initiative is funded by the Koch brothers who have put hundreds of millions of dollars into winning over various voter groups including Hispanics.

Even so, 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.

"Just to think what's going to happen in November, and just to think that I'm going to ... walk in there, show my ID, and then get in front of that screen, anything can happen." she says. "I have never voted for a Democrat, and I don't think I ever will, but then again, when I am in front of that screen, anything can happen."

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.

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