Carolina Gomez says her 17-year-old daughter asks what will happen to their family if Republican frontrunner Donald Trump is elected president.
That concern is widespread among younger Hispanics, who were born in America, but worried they could be deported to a country they have never known, said Gomez, 37, who moved to the United States from Mexico 19 years ago.
Hispanics – both legal and undocumented – are watching uneasily as GOP presidential candidates, including Trump, rattle off their immigration plans, including deporting the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States and ending birthright citizenship.
The immigration issue stirs passions in South Carolina, which will hold its GOP presidential primary Saturday.
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Ten percent of likely S.C. Republican voters say immigration is the most important issue in this year’s presidential election, according to a December 2015 poll. Meanwhile, nearly 250,000 S.C. residents — or roughly 1 in 20 — are Hispanic or Latino, a number that has nearly tripled since 2000, according to U.S. Census data.
So far, GOP presidential candidates have proposed a number of measures, including deporting illegal immigrants, eliminating federal aid to sanctuary cities that shelter immigrants, expanding guest-worker programs so more immigrants can work in the United States without becoming citizens, and ending birthright citizenship, the automatic granting of U.S. citizenship to any child born in the country.
“The only thing I think about is that it’s bad for the Hispanics,” Javier Orozco, 48, said on a cold Tuesday morning as he stood along Northeast Richland’s Decker Boulevard, the county’s self-proclaimed international corridor.
Orozco, who moved to the United States 11 years ago, watched Trump win the New Hampshire primary earlier this month. Now, polls say Trump — who burst into the presidential race by saying Mexican immigrants “are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists" — is the odds-on favorite to win Saturday’s GOP primary.
It “makes me nervous to know that somebody like him could become president,” Orozco said.
Not all immigrants agree.
Some say the GOP candidates’ views on immigration align with their own.
Sixty-one-year-old Sam Hernandez, who arrived in the United States from Cuba in 1969, said he is leaning toward supporting U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Hernandez, who owns and runs the Le Peep restaurant at the Village at Sandhill, said he thinks people who want to come to the United States should do so legally.
But, he added, they should be vetted first. “We need to make sure that whoever enters the United States of America, we need to know who that person is and their intentions to come.”
Like the state’s immigrants, South Carolinians as a whole are divided by the immigration debate.
Most South Carolinians — 58 percent — favor allowing undocumented immigrants to become citizens over a period of time if they meet certain requirements, according to a Winthrop Poll last fall. But 22 percent of South Carolinians, including 35 percent of Republicans, favor deporting all illegal immigrants.
‘Who’s going to build your houses?’
However, many Hispanics are alarmed by some of the GOP immigration proposals, including Trump’s vow to deport undocumented immigrants and build a “great wall” along the country’s Mexican border.
“The majority of Republicans are against us,” said Juan Rivera, 40, who runs the Tacos Nayarit food truck on Decker Boulevard.
“I would tell them to stop deportation and to stop tearing apart families. Imagine if they came and took your family members away.”
Jose Rivera, 40, said he and other Hispanics fear a Trump presidency would start a “witch hunt,” stigmatizing, tormenting and driving out Hispanics and Muslims.
Many Hispanics will leave the country if Trump is elected, said Jose Rivera, who owns and runs Rivera’s Food on Decker Boulevard. The United States will suffer, he added, because Americans don’t want to do “dirty work.”
“That’s when everything would start to crumble,” he said. “Who’s going to build your houses? Who’s going to pick your crops?
“You’re not going to feel it immediately — but eventually.”
What should be done with immigrants?
In September, the Winthrop Poll asked South Carolinians how the U.S. government should handle undocumented immigrants. Pollsters asked: “Should the government: deport all illegal immigrants back to the their home county; allow illegal immigrants to remain in the United States in order to work but only for a limited amount of time; or allow illegal immigrants to remain in the United States and become U.S. citizens but only if they meet certain requirements over a period of time?” Here’s how South Carolinians responded:
Allow to become citizens:
All: 58 percent
Republicans and GOP leaning: 42 percent
Deport all illegal immigrants:
All: 22 percent
Republicans and GOP leaning: 35 percent
Remain to work for limited time:
All: 16 percent
Republicans and GOP leaning: 21 percent