DENVER — As a Catholic growing up in the heavily Hispanic town of Commerce City, Colo., Floyd Trujillo was immersed in the social and religious teachings of the Church. Though still a devout Catholic at age 59, Trujillo finds himself more aligned with Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s controversial immigration policies than those advocated of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“It’s not so much our immigration system is broken; it’s that the laws are not being enforced,” said Trujillo, a successful oil man and former candidate for the U.S. Senate. “As a Catholic, I stand for social justice. But social justice involves rule of law and a fair playing field.”
Support for Trump’s immigration policies, which tap into a deep national dismay over the solutions being advanced by President Barack Obama and by other 2016 presidential candidates, is credited as being the leading factor that has propelled the New York real-estate magnate to an unexpected and enduring lead among the GOP contenders.
Trump continued to double down on his controversial hard line on illegal immigration during the Nov. 10 GOP candidates’ debate, during which he cited President Dwight Eisenhower’s policies in the 1950s as a model for how mass deportations of illegal immigrants could be accomplished if Trump becomes president. These remarks apparently continue to find a receptive audience: Internet polls conducted after the debate found that Trump’s performance was rated best by a wide margin of viewers who participated in the polls.
Trujillo — one of a number of Latinos interviewed by the Register who differed with the USCCB’s stance on immigration — even predicts a tipping point, in which Trump might even gain a majority of bipartisan Hispanic support.
Few political analysts would agree, however, and such a voter shift would be shocking to Juan Carlos Reyes, director of family services for the Archdiocese of Denver’s Centro San Juan Diego Hispanic and immigrant outreach headquarters.
“It should be difficult for a Christian to support Donald Trump on immigration, and even more difficult for a Christian who’s Catholic,” Reyes said. “Catholics fight for the rights of the immigrant and the poor. I cannot support him on this.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him. Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants' duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens” (2241).
The USCCB’s website begins its social teachings on immigration stating: “The Catholic Church in the United States is an immigrant Church with a long history of embracing diverse newcomers and providing assistance and pastoral care to immigrants, migrants, refugees and people on the move. Our Church has responded to Christ’s call for us to ‘welcome the stranger among us,’” as a way to encounter Christ.
It implores Catholics to welcome “our immigrant sisters and brothers into our parishes, schools and communities,” but concedes the immigration system of the United States needs humane and just reforms.
Trump’s proposed immigration reforms clearly sound less welcoming and compassionate than “embracing diverse newcomers,” and Reyes believes they are neither just nor humane. Some highlights include: Triple the number of immigration officers; end birthright citizenship, by challenging the 14th Amendment in court; “Put American Workers First”; end welfare abuse; defund sanctuary cities; “return of all criminal aliens”; and make Mexico pay for a wall.
Trump even uses the phrase “anchor babies,” describing children of undocumented immigrants born in the United States who consequently receive automatic U.S. citizenship and residency rights, a description that is considered a pejorative by some and even racist by others.
Trujillo is undismayed.
“I like what Trump is saying because he causes a conversation other Republicans are afraid to have,” Trujillo said. “I talk to other Hispanics, and his appeal is catching on. Even my parents (Democrats) like Donald Trump. I think the average Hispanic, who is neither partisan to the left of the right, is beginning to like Donald Trump. I just know what I hear in the Hispanic community.”
In fact, a Public Policy Polling survey in late July found Trump had the most support of Hispanics among the GOP field. His 34% favorability rating compared to Hispanic U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s 29%, Hispanic Sen. Ted Cruz’s 30% and 30% for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who speaks fluent Spanish and is married to a native Mexican and nationalized American citizen. And Trump’s 34% favorability rating among Hispanics was actually higher than his 31% favorability rating among white voters.
More recently, a Nov. 5-9 poll commissioned by The Economist found that Trump was rated by 15% of Hispanics as the best Republican candidate on immigration, second only to Bush’s 17% support among Hispanics on the issue.
And according to the Economist poll, more that a quarter of Hispanic Americans (28%) agree with Trump’s June statement, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
At the same time, more than twice as many Hispanics (61%) disagree with Trump’s controversial remark.
“I am very surprised to hear any significant number of Hispanics are supporting Donald Trump,” Reyes said. “We are all one big family. I don’t know one Hispanic, if that person is legal in the United States, who does not have a friend or relative in this country who is undocumented.”
Trujillo, who is married to an immigrant and naturalized citizen from South Korea, grew up in a low-income home in a Hispanic community. He didn’t speak a word of English until the first grade. As a young adult, Trujillo joined the Marines and later worked three jobs and up to 90 hours a week before becoming a member of the top 1% as an oil and gas executive.
He said Hispanics and U.S. immigrants from all over the world desire what most people in the United States want: peace, good jobs, financial stability and opportunities for their children.
“Everyone thinks they can win over Hispanics by talking about amnesty,” Trujillo said. “But the Hispanic community — because of faith, family values and hard work — we consider our community the savior of this country. But we can’t succeed, and our children cannot succeed, if our government ignores all the rules.”
As for “anchor babies,” Trujillo says it’s an accurate label that should offend no one.
“People come here from all over the world — they even come on birthing vacations from China — to produce American citizens,” he said. “I think the term makes sense. I’m all for children from other countries, but what about all the Hispanic children in my hometown of Commerce City, which has a 35% graduation rate among Hispanic kids? What about the high unemployment rate for black American kids? We need to worry about the kids who already live here, and I think that’s a responsible Catholic view.”
Jeff Rodriguez, also a Hispanic Catholic, agrees with Trujillo. He grew up the son of a steel-worker dad and secretary mom in the heavily Hispanic city of Pueblo, Colo. Both of his parents were Democrats, but Rodriguez is eager to vote for Trump and hopes the candidate continues a serious pursuit of the presidency.
They brought him up to reject all forms of government aid. Rodriguez remembers when his father endured a long-term layoff from the steel mill.
“My mom would not take a handout from the government, even though we were really struggling just to survive,” Rodriguez said. “She said taking handouts was an embarrassment, so she went and got a second job. She worked as a secretary during the day and did transcription for doctors late into the night. She made a business out of the transcription work and eventually hired six assistants.”
His parents, though proudly Hispanic, taught Rodriguez to disrespect illegal immigrants.
“My parents said they had no business being here if they could not be here legally,” he said.
Maria del Carmen Guzman-Weese came to the United States from Cuba in political exile at the age of 12 in 1971. Trump hasn’t won her support, but she understands why some of his immigration rhetoric resonates well with fellow Hispanics.
In Cuba, the communist government made Guzman-Weese and other young Catholics wear uniforms and march the avenues all day on Sundays to keep them from attending Mass. When church bells led her to defy the government, her grandmother feared the family would be killed. The United States was her family’s hope for living free, but they had to wait two years for permission to cross the border after escaping to Mexico. Years later, she became a naturalized citizen.
“We have laws for a reason, and they need to be enforced,” said Guzman-Weese, of Denver. “We cannot have millions of people coming in here without government securing the border and enforcing quotas. I don’t blame immigrants for these problems; I blame my government.”
Though Guzman-Weese agrees with the substance of Trump’s immigration message, she, like many other Americans, dislikes his demeanor.
“He is abrasive,” she said. “He offends people. Sometime it isn’t what you say so much as how you say it.”
Most Hispanics Oppose Trump
Overall, there is little indication that Trump’s policies command broad support among the nation’s Hispanic community, which is predominantly Catholic.
An AP-GfK poll conducted in late October found Trump is viewed unfavorably by 72% of Hispanics, compared to a favorability rating of only 11%.
Gloria Baumspimler, a Hispanic Catholic and retired high-school math teacher in west Texas, is representative of such sentiments. She has no enthusiasm for Trump and is repulsed by the “anchor baby” term. She thinks the kinder, gentler approach of the bishops and the Democratic Party will best help fellow Hispanics and the rest of the country.
A member of St. Mary’s Church in Odessa, Baumspimler said compassion toward immigrants — legal and otherwise — has always been part of her Catholic community. Catholic parishioners throughout Odessa cooperate to run a system in which homeless mothers, many of whom are illegal immigrants, find refuge for a week at a time at each church.
“They have a roof over their heads and food to eat,” Baumspimler said. “I’m not sure the general public even knows it’s going on. It can be anywhere from 10 to 30 women at any given time. It’s kind of a revolving door.”
“In Texas, we’re a lot more open-minded about immigration than the rest of the country,” Baumspimler explained. “Yes, Texas is conservative. But there are so many more Latinos in Texas than in most other states, and we see immigrants every day.”
Register correspondent Wayne Laugesen writes from Colorado.