USA Today


When Trump and Pence attack Latinos, they are attacking Americans.

It was a moment that sparked tweets, hashtags, and late-night TV jokes. At Tuesday’s vice presidential debate, Tim Kaine reminded viewers several times of Donald Trump’s history of divisive comments, trying to goad his rival Mike Pence into a response. On the fourth try it worked. “When Donald Trump says women should be punished or Mexicans are rapists,” Kaine began, “or John McCain is not a hero, he is showing you who he is.” Pence’s reply? “Senator, you’ve whipped out that Mexican thing again.”

Perhaps due to its irresistible potential for double-entendres, “that Mexican thing” became the line of the night. But this phrase matters. It reflects the indifference of the Trump campaign towards Hispanic Americans. It reveals the true heart of Mike Pence. Most of all, it matters because “that Mexican thing” swiftly became a rallying cry of pride for Latinos.

“That Mexican thing” is a reminder of how Trump views the Latino community. Trump has scant support among Latinos, and for good reason. He favors a “deportation force” for undocumented immigrants, whom he blames for crime and other social ills. He has questioned the integrity of a distinguished Mexican-American judge, and bullied a former Miss Universe.  Beyond designating that “taco truck on every corner” guy as a surrogate, his campaign has done little meaningful Latino outreach. The only use Latinos seem to have for the Trump campaign is to serve as a scapegoat for anti-immigrant sentiment framed as economic anxiety. To his great discredit, Trump has mainstreamed hate and demagoguery by repeatedly painting Mexico, Latinos, and immigrants as a potential enemy or “the other.”

For his part, Pence does not grasp how offensive what he calls “that Mexican thing” has been to Latinos. When he responded to Kaine, his tone was dismissive, as though the idea of bigotry towards the largest minority group in the country was simply tiresome. Pressed by Kaine on whether he could defend Trump’s remarks, Pence immediately pivoted to how “criminal aliens” are “perpetrating violence and taking American lives,” thereby conflating Latinos and immigrants with dangerous criminals. Pence also falsely insisted that Trump originally said that “many” Mexico’s immigrants are good people. This was not true; Trump only said that some were. Yet the real takeaway in the exchange was that Pence’s reaction to being confronted with Trump’s comments appeared to be a mixture of boredom and disdain. To Pence, Trump’s xenophobia is apparently a non-issue.

If “that Mexican thing” does not matter to Trump or Pence, it certainly matters to Latinos. Time reported that the phrase was the third most-tweeted moment of the debate. The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Los Angeles Times, and other outlets noted how the phrase sparked a social media outburst of Latinos sharing stories of our community’s “patriotism and resilience."

Aside from ridiculing Pence for his tone-deafness, tweeters shared family stories under the hashtag #ThatMexicanThing, like “being proud of my heritage, becoming a citizen, & showing up to vote against hate this November,” and “undocumented immigrants pay more taxes" than Donald Trump. Others told of family members serving in the military, or working hard so that the younger generation could succeed.  Journalist Jorge Ramos, author Julissa Arce, and Congressman Ruben Gallego weighed in too, reminding the world that Pence’s remark itself was insulting. No wonder that The Houston Chronicle termed this hashtag “an energizer for Latinos.” Plus, the Clinton campaign is likely to use it to rally Latino support.

This organic online pushback should concern the GOP. Donald Trump’s presidency is increasingly looking like a long shot, which could endanger down-ballot races. The controversy over “that Mexican thing” is yet another reminder that Latinos are highly engaged in this election, as we know how much is at stake.

“That Mexican thing” matters because Latinos are tired of our community being demonized or dismissed. We are more than a wedge issue. We are not things. We are Americans. We are voters. And come November, we will be heard.

Raul A. Reyes is an attorney, and an and CNN Opinion contributor. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes.


“GOP owns Steve King’s racism”

March 15, 2017

by Raul A. Reyes

“Roar of the ‘Mexican thing’”

October 6, 2016

by Raul A. Reyes

“Trump beats deporter-in-chief”

February 21, 2017

by Raul A. Reyes

King’s views are offensive — yet so is the fact that he has not been more forcefully rebuked by members of the GOP.

There he goes again. On Monday, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, refused to apologize for a controversy he sparked this weekend by offering support to a far-right Dutch candidate. King had tweeted on Sunday that Geert Wilders “understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” Asked about his views on CNN, King did not back down. He called Western civilization a “superior culture” and said that some cultures contribute more to American society than others.

Such sentiments are nothing new from King. What is troubling is that the response from the Republican leadership has been woefully muted.  King’s views are offensive — yet so is the fact that he has not been more forcefully rebuked by members of the GOP.

King has a long history of racially charged remarks. In July, he suggested on MSNBC that whites made more contributions to civilization than nonwhite “subgroups.” In 2013, he infamously claimed that some young immigrants had “calves the size of cantaloupes” from hauling drugs across the border. He once called immigration a “slow-motion Holocaust” and has compared immigrants to dogs. So King’s latest comments are hardly a shock, though Esquire noted that it was “the most blatantly racist statement from a member of Congress in 50 years.”

King’s remarks drew criticism on social media from everyone from Tom Brokaw, who pointed out that “somebody else’s babies” risk their lives in the U.S. military, to Chelsea Clinton, who called King’s words “particularly ironic and painful on Purim.” Such pushback was well deserved, as King was, in effect, promulgating white supremacy. Remember, this was not a gaffe or poor choice of words. Given the opportunity to clarify himself on CNN, King stated, "I’d like to see an America that’s just so homogenous that we look a lot the same.”

While Democrats were quick to rebuke King, the same cannot be said for most Republicans. Two Miami Republicans, Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, denounced his words. House Speaker Paul Ryan said through a spokesman that, “The speaker clearly disagrees and believes America’s long history of inclusiveness is one of its great strengths.” Asked about King’s words, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said he would “touch base with the president on that and get back to you on that.” Later he released a tepidly worded statement stating, "The President believes that this is not a point of view that he shares."

That has been about it from GOP leadership, even as newspaper editorial boards and columnists have condemned King’s rhetoric. Apparently, King’s words do not merit more attention, let alone a stronger public repudiation, from his party. Perhaps this is to be expected in the Trump era, with president who has been slow to confront anti-Semitism and bigotry. It is still a sad reflection on politics in 2017 that we have reached the point where partisanship is more important than the values of equality and inclusion that define us as Americans.

Consider that if they were so inclined, Congressional Republicans could do more than denounce King’s words. They could introduce a measure to censure him for his comments. House leadership could boot King off of the House Judiciary Committee. This might give King time to reflect on more constructive matters, such as the fact that Iowa’s Latino population grew 116% between 2000 and 2015.

Sure, King is one person — not the whole Republican Party — and he has right to his opinions. However, his casting aspersions on Americans of different backgrounds should not be tolerated by the more reasonable voices in the GOP.  Unfortunately, with their silence they have done just that. Their lack of a strong response is a kind of complicity, which sends a dangerous message at a time when hate crimes against Muslims, Latinos, Jews and others are on the rise. And although national Republican figures may still weigh in on King’s comments, the moment for genuine outrage has past.

Republicans have missed a chance to call out blatant bigotry, and demonstrate that racism has no place in their party. By not strongly rejecting King’s ugly remarks, the GOP collectively owns them.

Raul Reyes is an attorney in New York and a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.

New raids have no broader purpose except to satisfy the most xenophobic members of his base.

President Trump campaigned on a promise to crack down on undocumented immigrants, and now we know what the president’s deportation force might look like. Last week, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted raids across the country, causing terror in immigrant communities and sweeping up more than 680 people. Among them are a young man in Seattle with no criminal record who had received deferred action under President Obama, an alleged victim of domestic abuse in El Paso, and a father who was detained in Austin after being mistaken for his brother-in-law.

Although the Trump administration is painting these ICE raids as a continuation of Obama-era policies, Trump’s immigration enforcement actions have the potential to go far beyond those of his predecessor. In spirit and in practice, Trump’s immigration policies differ significantly from Obama’s. And this first round of raids is likely a preview of what we can expect in the future.

“We’re actually taking people that are criminals — very, very hardened criminals in some cases — with a tremendous track record of abuse and problems, and we are getting them out,” Trump said last week. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and ICE officials have made similar remarks. But if this were true, Trump would have not issued an executive order rescinding Obama’s deportation priorities.

Under Obama’s 2014 guidelines, the government focused on convicted criminals, national security threats and recent arrivals as priorities for removal. These sensible guidelines meant that the overwhelming majority of undocumented immigrants could live their lives without fear.

Trump’s Jan. 26 executive order goes much further in defining who can be deported. Under the new policy, an undocumented person can be deported if he has a criminal conviction, regardless of when and under what circumstances it occurred. People can be deported if they were ever charged with a crime, even if they were not convicted. Trump’s executive order gives immigration agents wide discretion to decide who should be removed; under Trump’s order, agents can remove anyone whom they judge to be a threat to public security or safety. This means that virtually all of the country’s 11 million undocumented people are now potential targets for deportation. Trump’s order would treat a senior citizen with a decades-old conviction, a teenager who was allegedly speeding and a murderer all the same — as people to be kicked out.

In a statement about last week’s raids, Kelly noted that “of those arrested, approximately 75% were criminal aliens” convicted of crimes that include homicide, drug trafficking and sexual abuse. But many of those were likely swept up for minor offenses or for re-entering the country illegally.

And what about the other 25% of those arrested? Here, too, Trump’s deportation priorities differ from Obama’s. Under Obama, immigration agents focused on targeted individuals. By comparison, the latest round of ICE raids reportedly swept up some people as “collateral arrests,” meaning they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

If nothing else, Trump’s immigration raids might dispel a common myth around “sanctuary cities.” Many people seem to have the idea that sanctuary cities are places where undocumented immigrants run amok without any fear of deportation. Yet ICE made arrests in Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Seattle — all of which are sanctuary cities. This proves that simply residing in a sanctuary city does not mean that an undocumented immigrant can evade immigration enforcement.

True, Obama deported more undocumented immigrants than any other president, earning himself the title of “deporter in chief" in the process. However, Obama’s immigration enforcement actions were part of an attempt to show congressional Republicans that he was serious about tackling illegal immigration.  By ramping up raids and deportations, Obama hoped that Republicans would then help him pass immigration reform, which never happened. Once Obama grasped this reality, he began setting more reasonable removal priorities.

Trump’s raids have no broader purpose except to expel some of the most vulnerable people among us and satisfy the most xenophobic members of his base. His ICE raids have already produced anxiety and fear in immigrant communities. Does anyone feel safer because Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, an Arizona mom of two, was deported? We are likely less safer because, by casting such a wide net, the Trump administration will have fewer resources to go after violent criminals, and immigrants will increasingly shy from interacting with local law enforcement. More people who are simply trying to live their lives — like the DREAMer in Seattle — will be caught up in ICE raids and have their futures upended. Meanwhile, the American public continues to favor legalization over mass deportations by huge margins.

Trump’s deportation priorities are overly broad and poorly conceived. The fact that administration officials are attempting to deflect some blame for them onto Obama suggests they recognize that ICE raids will not make America great again.

Raul A. Reyes, an attorney, is an NBC News and CNN Opinion contributor. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes.