Donald Trump’s remarks about Hispanics — “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists,” he said of Mexican immigrants last summer — have been called racist and shocking. Sixty-two percent of Hispanic voters in a recent CBS News poll say they view him unfavorably.
Yet along the Texas-Mexico border, Trump enjoys a well of support among Hispanic Americans that some might find surprising.
Texas has the second largest Latino population in the nation, including nearly five million eligible Hispanic voters. In the Texas Republican primary March 1, Trump came in a distant second, winning just six of the state’s 254 counties. He did better than average in border towns with a high proportion of Hispanic voters.
Tony Castaneda, the grandson of Mexican immigrants, cast one of those votes for Trump.
“I’m a former chief of police in a border town. I’m Hispanic, I’m proud to be Hispanic and I’m 100 percent behind Donald Trump for his candidacy to the White House,” Castaneda told CBS News.
He isn’t offended by the candidate’s critical remarks.
“He’s very blunt. I’m blunt too. Maybe that’s why I like some of his positions, because he’s not a side shooter. You know, he talks directly, directly to the point. Maybe that needs to be polished up a bit to be politically correct, but I don’t think he wants to be politically correct. We’re tired of politically correct people occupying the White House and occupying positions of government that represent us. We don’t want to hear the politically correct response. We want to hear the truth.”
The Rio Grande runs through Eagle Pass, Castaneda’s hometown. Mexico is right across the river.
“I live right on the border, so I am familiar with undocumented people coming through the backyard of my house and I am familiar with narcotic traffickers dumping dope next to my house and I participated in the arrest of these people. So I want a good defense along the border, too, so I can live in comfort and I can live in peace just like everybody else in this country,” he said.
“I consider Mr. Trump my amigo — nuestro amigo — because he’s trying to set a procedure that will be legally followed by those people who want to become residents.”
Miriam Cepeda, a 24-year-old Trump supporter, lives farther south in the border town of McAllen, Texas.
“People need to wake up and realize that the illegal immigrants that are here, that have no other form of self employment, do turn to drugs, do turn to the cartel business, do turn to illegal immigration. And I’m saying this because I have family members that are involved in this stuff, and they are in the state jail at this moment, and I would love nothing better but for them to be deported,” she said.
The Department of Homeland Security says over 190,000 criminal aliens have been booked into local Texas jails between June 1, 2011 and April 30, 2016.
“Hopefully with Donald Trump being the next president, we can secure our borders. He is the only one who is actively engaging in the conversation about illegal immigration,” added Cepeda, a Mexican-American who said her grandparents came to the U.S. legally in the 1950s.
Hector Garza, whose Mexican parents also immigrated legally, has been a U.S. Border Patrol Agent in the Laredo sector for 15 years. He says he’s watched illegal immigration rise as Border Patrol resources shrink.
“In this year’s budget, President Obama called for 300 less BP agents, along the border, and at this point, we do not need less BP agents, we need more,” he said.
Trump’s remarks on illegal immigration got Garza’s attention. He invited the candidate to Laredo for a firsthand look. Trump arrived in July 2015.
“I did meet with Mr. Trump. I did feel that Mr. Trump was really concerned about the border, and him coming down to Laredo and accepting our invitation, I think that’s an indication that he really does care what happens on the border,” Garza said.
The National Border Patrol Council, a union representing 16,500 Border Patrol agents, gave Trump their first ever-Presidential endorsement.
There was a time when the American government welcomed Mexican immigrants. Between 1942 and 1964, the Bracero (“farm laborer”) Program allowed four and a half million Mexican men to come to the U.S. to do farm work.
Frank Santos’s father was one of them. Frank, his mother and his four siblings got their green cards, left Tijuana and joined their father in the U.S. in 1965.
“What is it they say about the United States — it’s the land of opportunity?” he says.
After 30 years as a resident alien, he filed the paperwork and became a U.S. citizen in 2012. He wanted to vote.
“All of the presidents, I didn’t think they were that bad until I started to see what was going on, and it was hurting our country, so I said, I gotta — I gotta do something about it.”
He’ll be among a record 27.3 million Hispanics nationwide who will be eligible to vote this November, according to a Pew Research Center report.
And Santos will be voting for Trump. “He’s just somebody fresh, not out of nowhere, he’s not a politician.”
Like Tony Castaneda in Eagle Pass, Miriam Cepeda in the Valley, and Hector Garza in Laredo, Frank Santos agrees with Trump’s immigration policy.
“We all have relatives, in Mexico, and sometimes we feel sorry that they can’t come over here because of their status, but I’ve always believed the best way to something is to do it legally,” he said.