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Fla. immigrant advocates, activists: Trump did not seek to moderate hardline immigration stance in speech

Mark McCullough
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Fla. immigrant advocates, activists: Trump did not seek to moderate hardline immigration stance in speech

By Sergio Bustos

09/01/16 04:29 PM EDT


MIAMI — Pro-immigrant groups and activists in Florida say GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump used his hardline immigration speech Wednesday night to solidify his base of GOP support instead of trying to “moderate his past hateful and vitriolic speech.”

"Using half-truths and lies already debunked by experts, Trump quickly reminded voters what truly is at stake in this election," the groups and activists said in a joint statement Thursday. "He clarified a plan that that may have reinvigorated a base that delivered him the Republican nomination, but it’s also one that is neither presidential nor respectful of the diverse communities that power American democracy."

"While many thought that Trump would try to use his Wednesday night speech in Phoenix to moderate his past hateful and vitriolic speech, it soon became clear that he was instead using his moment to solidify a GOP base that has been increasingly fueled by the alt-right and extremist groups," they said.

Speaking from Phoenix Wednesday night after having visited with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto, Trump railed for nearly 90 minutes about how undocumented immigrants are hurting America. He promised to build his border wall, make Mexico pay for it, and to empower a massive new “deportation task force” of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to round up the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.

“People will know that you can’t just smuggle in, hunker down, and wait to be legalized. Those days are over,” Trump declared.

On Thursday morning, Trump told conservative talk radio host Laura Ingraham that there is actually “quite a bit of softening” in how he’s approaching his signature campaign issue. His latest comment makes it even harder to pin down just where Trump is landing on the hot-button issue, and amplifies the pick-what-you-want-to-hear nature of his talk on immigration.

In Florida, Trump's immigration position is clear to pro-immigrant activists and others.

"The Donald Trump we heard Wednesday is the same racist one who has constantly said that he wants to criminalize immigrants, end DACA for Dreamers, and limit who gets access to the American Dream," said Maria Rodriguez of the Miami-based Florida Immigrant Coalition Votes.

In 2012, President Barack Obama launched the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, allowing hundreds of thousands of children and younger teens here illegally to temporarily work and avoid deportation.

“The only plan that he and his GOP apologists are offering is one that disrupts the social and economic fabric of hundreds of thousands of communities, all in a hate-fueled scheme that will leave this nation as ‘great' as any of Trump's failed businesses," she said.

“Instead of vilifying immigrants, Trump should start listening to Florida’s working families, to our kids, to our voters,” said Monica Russo, president of the Service Employees International Union Florida.

Frederick Velez III, of Orlando-based Organize Now, said Trump fails to understand that “the way to fixing our immigration system is a comprehensive approach that builds on our nation's strength instead of pitting Americans against each other.”

Marcia Olivo, of the Miami Workers Center, said Trump is using undocumented immigrants as a “scapegoat” for economic problems in the country.

“Undocumented immigrants … are not the reason for depressed wages, rising housing costs, unaffordable child care, substandard schools and other challenges that worries every American.”

Said Mike Williams, President of the Florida AFL-CIO: "Working families in Florida will not be fooled by a desperate doubling down on dangerous policy and hateful rhetoric by a failing presidential candidate.”

“Bad immigration policy, not immigration in and of itself, hurts American workers,” he said.

Andy Madtes, executive director for AFSCME Florida, said Trump’s “xenophobic vision for America would wreck the economy and our state for generations to come."

Elbert Garcia, State Director for Florida’s Voice, said Trump is offering a “limited vision of America” and “a Willie Horton-esque vilification of immigrants,” in reference to the 1988 presidential campaign when George H.W. Bush painted his Democratic opponent, Michael Dukakis, soft on crime.

“After yesterday, there should be no doubt that any mentions of a possible 'moderate' or 'compassionate' immigration policy from the Trump campaign are, at best, insincere," said Tampa-based community activist Ana Lamb. "In that way, nothing has changed — Trump and his supporters still have every intention of separating families and leaving 11 million without a pathway to equality.”

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