How Trump's immigration rhetoric is playing out in Texas

The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti went to Texas to find out how President Donald Trump's rhetoric around the southern border is affecting or strengthening voter loyalty.

Moved by the plight of his partner, Terry Stevener voting for first time

A woman goes to vote early at a polling station in McAllen, Texas, on Oct. 22, 2018. (Carlos Barria/REUTERS)
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The southern border of Texas has been a political line in the sand for years.

But as voters go to the polls in the U.S. midterms Tuesday, it's drawing a line through some old allegiances.

When thousands of children were split from their families and held in government-run facilities under a Trump administration policy, Texan voters felt the eyes of the world.

Now President Donald Trump's continued push for tighter border controls and recent decision to send troops to the border to stop a migrant caravan have been called a political gambit aimed at midterm voters.

The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti went to the Lone Star state, traditionally seen as a Republican bastion, to find out how Trump's rhetoric around the southern border is affecting or strengthening voter loyalty.

'I saw the babies in cages'

Tess Clarke, who runs a non-profit that helps refugees, says she has struggled to reconcile her Christian beliefs with Donald Trump's presidency. (Geoff Turner/CBC)

For the first time ever, lifelong Republican Tess Clarke will vote for a Democrat.

She says her allegiance shifted when Trump won the Republican party nomination.

"When he got the nomination, I said: 'This man stands for nothing I stand for, as just a follower of Jesus.'"

Clarke, who runs Seek the Peace — a Dallas-based non-profit organization that helps immigrants and refugees — says the U.S. government's separation of migrant families deepened her disillusionment.

She says she visited a detention centre in McAllen, Texas, known as "Ursula," and "saw the babies in cages and I saw the women with their children behind fencing."

"It was one of the most dehumanizing things I've ever seen."

Reporter talks with CBC's Natasha Fatah about situation of children living separated from their families 5:20

Clarke says she intends to vote for Democrat Beto O'Rourke, who is trying to oust Republican Ted Cruz as senator.

"I do believe that life does start at conception, and I also believe the Syrian refugee life is equally valuable — so I've been looking for politicians who are looking at life holistically."

'I've never voted one time in my life'

Terry Stevener's partner Estela Fajardo has been in custody for two and a half years. (Geoff Turner/CBC)

Moved by the plight of his partner, Terry Stevener says he will cast a ballot for the first time Tuesday.

"I've never been a Republican, I've never been a Democrat, and I've never voted one time in my life," he told Tremonti.

That has changed: the experience of being separated from the mother of his son has convinced Stevener to vote Democrat.

Stevener says his partner — once a successful business and community leader in Waco, Texas — is now languishing in jail.

Estela Fajardo, who arrived in the U.S. as an undocumented migrant in her teens, was arrested on felony charges of organized crime and conspiracy to commit burglary in January 2016.

Her lawyers say that she inadvertently bought stolen goods, but her case is complicated because she never updated her immigration status.

Hope Mustakim, an advocate with Waco Immigrants Alliance, alleged Fajardo's ex-husband "never allowed her to adjust her status" during their 20-year marriage.

That means she can't post bail because U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would arrest and deport her on release.

Fajardo has been in custody for two and a half years, unable to see her four children.

Dylan, the son she had with Stevener, was one when she was arrested. 

"He gets to see her once a week, and it's not in person," Stevener said. "The visitation centre is one place — jail is another place. So all you're on is a 12-inch monitor, with a television screen, and a telephone."

"There's no physical contact at all. To Dylan, his mom is a TV character."

Migration 'not the main issue for Hispanic Republicans'

Ivan Andarza, who sits on board of the Hispanic Republicans of Texas, said 'it's what you get done that gets you elected.' (Geoff Turner/CBC)

From his purview on the board of the Hispanic Republicans of Texas, Ivan Andarza says the economy trumps immigration as a key election issue for Hispanic voters in Texas.

"A lot of first-generation Americans are business owners ...  they're very much entrepreneurs," he told Tremonti.

They just can't vote, so it doesn't really affect the vote that much- Ivan  Andarza

"[Immigration] is an issue, but it's not the main issue for Hispanic Republicans in general, or Hispanics in general," said Andarza, who was born in the U.S.

According to the Pew Research Center's 2018 National Survey of Latinos, 19 per cent of registered Hispanic voters surveyed consider the economy the most important problem in America whereas 16 per cent said it was immigration.

Andarza says attention may be focused on undocumented migrants, but "they just can't vote, so it doesn't really affect the vote that much."

In the end, "it's what you get done that gets you elected," he said.

"[People] vote on economy. They vote if things are good," he said. "If your economy is bad, you can be the greatest president in the world, people are going to vote against you."

Listen to the full documentary near the top of this page.


Written by Padraig Moran. The Current's documentary As Goes Texas was produced by Geoff Turner.

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