Immigration reformers rip Trump's Hispanic outreach as a lost cause

Immigration reformers rip Trump's Hispanic outreach as a lost cause
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Immigrant rights advocates have a brusque message for Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpUSPS warns Pennsylvania mail-in ballots may not be delivered in time to be counted Michael Cohen book accuses Trump of corruption, fraud Trump requests mail-in ballot for Florida congressional primary MORE as the Republican presidential nominee aims to attract more Hispanics to his struggling campaign: It ain't gonna work.

Liberal immigration reformers contend that Trump's hard-line approach to those living in the country illegally — combined with his incendiary statements toward Mexicans, Syrian refugees and other groups — have so offended immigrant voters that any late-stage outreach will prove futile.

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“The cake is baked. He's defined. He's known as a racist and a bigot. He's insulted Mexicans and Latino immigrants from day one … [and] he's used xenophobia and nativism as a core element of his campaign,” Frank Sharry, head of America's Voice, an immigrant rights group, said Monday on a press call. 

“The idea that in late August in the general election campaign … [he's had] his first meeting with Hispanic supporters is ridiculous,” Sharry added. “It's not going to mean a thing.”

The critics say Trump's recent appointment of Steve Bannon, former CEO of Breitbart News, to head his campaign reveals clearly that the Republican nominee is hinging his success on energizing the staunch conservative white voters who constitute his base. They point to Breitbart's embrace of the so-called alternative right movement as evidence that Trump's campaign has little interest in appealing to other demographics.

“This term 'alt-right' is just simply a rebranding, with a little bit more tech savvy among those who call themselves alt-right, of white nationalism,” said Heidi Beirich, head of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups across the country. “It's an attempt to give respectability … to hateful ideas [like] white supremacy, … racism, anti-Semitism and so on that have long been considered unacceptable in the American mainstream.”

In a much-watched event, Trump met Saturday in New York with more than 20 Hispanic Republicans from across the country in an attempt to rally support from Hispanic voters, who oppose him by an overwhelming margin, according to numerous polls. 

Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus described the event as part of an “expansive effort to engage the Hispanic community.”

Organized along with the RNC, the newly formed National Hispanic Advisory Council for Trump — which consists of state lawmakers, faith leaders and others — “discussed strategies for ensuring the Hispanic community understands Mr. Trump’s proposals to turn around an anemic economy, revive a shrinking middle class, and end international terrorism,” the RNC said in a statement afterward.

The meeting drew heightened attention after BuzzFeed reported that Trump told the gathering he's open to the legalization of millions of undocumented immigrants — a policy he's adamantly opposed on the campaign trail.

Trump’s surrogates raced to his defense, saying his immigration positions remain unchanged.

“First and foremost, he has made clear that we end the illegality,” Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsHow would a Biden Justice Department be different? Kamala Harris: The right choice at the right time Three pros and three cons to Biden picking Harris MORE (R-Ala.) said Sunday on CBS News's “Face the Nation.”

Trump himself rejected the BuzzFeed story on Monday, saying it's as accurate as the website's previous predictions that Trump could never prevail in the GOP primaries. 

“I'm not flip-flopping,” he told Fox News. “We want to come up with a really fair but firm answer. It has to be very firm. But we want something fair.”

Trump has a tough road ahead if he hopes to make gains with Hispanic voters. The Manhattan billionaire launched his campaign 14 months ago with a combative speech that focused largely on a tough immigration platform and referred to Mexicans as “criminals” and “rapists.” He's vowed to fortify the wall along the southern border — while forcing the Mexican government to pick up the tab. And he's suggested that an Indiana-born judge is untrustworthy because “he's Mexican.”

The comments have hobbled Republican efforts to make inroads with Hispanic voters. President Obama won roughly 70 percent of that group in both 2008 and 2012, and Republican leaders have been scrambling to reverse that trend in 2016. With Trump atop the Republican ballot, Democrats see a real opportunity to solidify wins in battleground states with significant Hispanic populations, including Florida, Virginia, Colorado and Nevada.

Still, the test facing Democrats is not only swaying sentiment: They're also racing to convince Hispanics to vote. While the number of eligible Hispanic voters is expected to top 27 million this year, according to the Pew Research Center, the turnout rate among Hispanics has long lagged behind that of other demographics, and not even half of the eligible Hispanic voters showed up at the polls in either 2008 or 2012.

It’s a dynamic the advocates recognize, and they're warning that Trump's candidacy alone won't bring those voters to the polls. 

“We have to do a lot of work to educate voters,” Maria Rodriguez, head of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, an advocacy group, said during Monday's press call. 

“We can't just sit aside and say, ‘Oh, he's such a racist. … He's such a clown, nobody's going to vote for him.’ ”

Trump had reportedly been scheduled to give a much-anticipated speech outlining his immigration policies on Thursday in Colorado. But that event was scrapped, the campaign said Monday, because the speech “is still being modified.”