Opposing Immigration Views on Display at Boulder GOP Debate

As Republican presidential hopefuls squared off inside the Coors Event Center on the University of Colorado campus in Boulder late last month, a group of protesters assembled at nearby Farrand Field to push back against what they see as anti-immigrant and anti-Latino rhetoric coming from GOP candidates.

The “My Country, My Vote” rally was spearheaded by Federico Pena, former Denver mayor and former U.S. Transportation and Energy Secretary. Leading up to the event, Pena described the rally as non-partisan and said he asked speakers to refrain from naming candidates. And while many did refrain from naming names, it was clear that Donald Trump was the primary target of ire.

During his presidential announcement speech on June 16, Trump said that, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Trump also said that, if elected president, he would round up and deport the approximately 11.3 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States—although he added that, “If we have wonderful cases, they can come back in, but they have to come back in legally.”

No other GOP candidate has used the inflammatory anti-immigrant language that Trump has, but some view a lack of criticism as a type of tacit support. Pena said that leaving negative rhetoric unchallenged is dangerous because people begin to believe it.

“So when someone says ‘we’re going to round up 11 million people and forcibly remove them out of the country,’ people say, ‘well, why not?’” said Pena.

Many in attendance at the rally focused on the positive contributions of immigrants to the United States, defying the idea that immigrants are “takers” who impose undue burdens on the nation’s taxpayers.

“We’re not criminals, we’re not rapists,” said a dreamer and University of Colorado graduate in attendance at the rally. “We’re actually contributing members to our society.”

Pena stressed that a major talking point of the GOP candidates—the economy and job creation—is also a hallmark of the immigrant community. Immigrants, says Pena, are very much contributors to the economy—and his point is borne out by statistics. For example, among all Fortune 500 companies, 40% were established by immigrants and the children of immigrants.

“I’m an immigrant. I came to the United States 16 years ago,” said rally attendee America Cabajal. “I’m a worker and now I’m a business owner, and I fought for this country just as much as a U.S. citizen.”

Many in attendance focused on the danger of using immigrants as a scapegoat for the nation’s problems. Other important themes were comprehensive immigration reform that provides a pathway to citizenship and encouraging the Latino community to vote.

The 2012 national election marked the first time that the Latino vote topped 10 percent of the total. The November 2016 election is expected to draw an ever stronger Latino turnout.

A recent Washington Post/ABC news poll indicates that among Latino voters, support for Trump stands at 15 percent—much lower than recent Republican candidates John McCain and Mitt Romney, who each garnered 25% of the Latino vote. The highest-rated GOP candidate among Latinos, according to the Poll, is Jeb Bush, who is viewed favorably by 43% of Latino voter. Bush is Spanish-speaking, married to a Mexican woman, and more centrist on immigrant issues. Bush’s brother, George, gained more than 40% of the Latino vote in his presidential victory.

An MSNBC poll shows that Democrats have a strong edge over Republicans among Latino voters. That same poll found Bush holding a slight edge in Latino support over Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

A complete rundown of candidates’ stances on immigration can be found at America’s Voice.