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Latino voters vow to battle Trump at the ballot box

Latino leaders say their community is under attack from Donald Trump, and they are vowing to defend themselves at the ballot box. Several voting-advocacy groups say Trump is actually a catalyst for their cause because of his anti-immigrant rhetoric.

9 voting-advocacy groups launch a nationwide mobilization campaign

A Donald Trump protester carries a pinata of Trump past his supporters outside a campaign event in Los Angeles, in July 2015. Some Latinos say they are offended by Trump's insults about Mexican immigrants and are vowing to defend their community at the ballot box. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

U.S. Latino leaders say their community is under attack by Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant rhetoric, and they're vowing to fight back at the ballot box to stop his "dangerous" candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination.

Nine Latino voting-advocacy organizations recently joined forces to launch a nationwide mobilization campaign.

Their goals are to register a record number of Latino voters, keep them informed on the race for the White House, and ensure their voices are heard not just in the general election in November but in the primaries and caucuses that lead to both national parties choosing their nominees.

Nevada, where Trump easily won the Republican caucuses on Tuesday, has a significant Latino population.

So do Texas and Colorado, which vote next Tuesday. In Texas alone, an estimated two million Latinos are expected to vote this year.

Houston will be the site Thursday of a GOP debate co-hosted by CNN and Spanish-language Telemundo, with a focus on Latino issues. Trump, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and John Kasich are all expected to participate.

Florida, which also has a large Latino population, will vote on March 15.

Some entrance polls done in Nevada showed Trump winning the Latino vote over Rubio and Cruz, who both have Cuban heritage, and Trump noted his Latino support in his victory speech Tuesday night.

The groups are not formally telling Latinos to boycott Trump, but several representatives clearly expressed their opposition to him at a recent news conference in Washington, D.C., where they launched their campaign.

Jose Calderon, president of the Hispanic Federation, said in an interview that Trump has staked his campaign on attacking the Latino community.

"That's the way he started, that's the way he's continued, I think that's the way he's mobilized the people that are supporting him," he said.

Anti-Latino sentiment

Trump kicked off his presidential campaign in June by calling Mexican immigrants criminals, drug traffickers and rapists. He is promising to build a wall at the border to stop illegal immigration and he is threatening to round up and deport the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S.

Calderon said most Latinos have taken "deep offence" to what Trump has said and proposed, and his group is helping spread the word to those who haven't heard. "We're educating our community around the dangers of this candidate," he said.

Arturo Vargas, head of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, said Trump is appealing to "the darker side of the American spirit," a side that fears immigrants.

"He's given licence to express anti-Latino sentiment in this country," he said. "It's dangerous."
Trump supporters outside a campaign event last summer in Los Angeles. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Cristobal Alex, whose group has endorsed Hillary Clinton, and other representatives from the groups said when the Latino community feels under attack, it responds.

"We register in record numbers, we vote in record numbers, and we're already starting to see evidence of that this year," said Alex, president of the Latino Victory Fund.

A record number of Latinos voted in the first nominating contest, the Iowa caucuses, he noted, and he's confident the Latino vote will ultimately decide the next president.

There are an estimated 27 million Latinos eligible to vote in 2016 and that's enough to influence the results, he said. Convincing eligible voters to actually vote, however, is the challenge for groups like his.

"If the door to the White House is the Latino community, the folks who are going to vote on election day are the key that unlocks that door or deadbolts that door," said Alex. "If it's a candidate like Trump or someone else who has attacked our community, we're going to be sure that door is locked."

Trump could boost Latino turnout

The groups said Trump is acting as a catalyst that will motivate Latino voters even more to cast a ballot against him.

Trump could inadvertently help their cause, but Brent Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said he'd prefer that were not the case.
Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally Feb. 22 in Las Vegas. (John Locher/Associated Press)

"We would never wish a Trump, even if it does generate the biggest Latino turnout in the nation's history," said Wilkes.

Trump has now claimed victory in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada and is leading national polls. His immigration proposals, including banning Muslims temporarily from the United States, are supported by his fans, who cheer loudly when he talks about building a big, beautiful wall that he vows will be paid for by Mexico.

"That is concerning to us," Wilkes said about the number of Americans who love what Trump is offering.

But Alex said he's confident a majority of Americans don't support Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric. He may be getting support now but in the general election, if Trump is the nominee, "all bets are off."

'They are going to punish him on election day'

"People are going to remind him of what he said, and we are going to remind our community of what he says and they are going to punish him on election day," said Alex.

Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, said there is no doubt the Latino community is motivated this election cycle.

"We are not going to be a punching bag for any presidential candidate. Our community is going to defend itself," she said.

Trump's campaign did not respond to a CBC News request for comment, but Trump has said in TV interviews that he's confident he will win the Latino vote.

In an NBC News interview last year he said he has a "great relationship" with Mexicans and employs many legal Mexican immigrants in his hotel construction project in Washington. 

"They love me, I love them," he said.

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