Donald Trump

Hispanic leaders talk to Trump camp: ‘We wanted to understand his tone’

Paul Manafort appeared on stage ahead of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump last month in New York.
Paul Manafort appeared on stage ahead of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump last month in New York. AP

After the Dallas police shootings, Donald Trump didn’t make it Friday to Miami’s Versailles Cuban restaurant to reach out in person to Hispanic community leaders.

But his campaign didn’t waste the opportunity of having an assembled group of pastors and business people in town.

Instead of lunch, some of Trump’s guests made their way Friday to Trump National Doral golf resort for a teleconference with Paul Manafort, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s campaign chairman. The half-hour call reassured at least some of the Latinos present that Trump’s camp is serious about working with them more closely.

“We were very happy,” said Marilyn Rivera, an evangelical pastor based in North Miami who heads government affairs for the South Florida Hispanic Ministers Association, which has about 250 members. “They did hear us.”

The meeting, first reported by Bloomberg Politics, was led in person by Karen Giorno, Trump’s Florida director and senior political adviser; Jennifer Sevilla Korn, the Republican National Committee’s deputy political director, and Helen Aguirre Ferré, the RNC’s Hispanic communications director, who hails from Miami. About 30 people attended in all; the lunch gathering would have been slightly larger and also included some elected politicians.

The three key issues raised, according to several attendees, were immigration, religious liberty and small business. No one in the room was “there to look for apologies or concessions,” said Jovita Carranza, a former deputy administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration under President George W. Bush. They wanted specific solutions to their concerns.

Carranza, for example, brought up “cumbersome” small-business loan applications and gender inequality in access to capital and federal contracts, and underscored the growing purchasing power of Hispanics and number of Latino-owned businesses.

But no conversation involving Trump’s campaign and Hispanics is complete without a mention of immigration, an issue in which the candidate has spoken harshly about some Mexicans and has proposed building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We wanted to understand his tone,” said Carranza, who is Mexican-American and lives outside Chicago. (She used to live in Florida, running Latin America operations for UPS.)

“I don’t agree with everything that he says; I think I’m OK with the wall. We’re OK with it,” said Rivera, a pastor at La Puerta Life Center. “What comes after the wall — that’s what concerns us. We are just hoping that he will consider everything that we have given him and work with us to get a solution.”

Manafort told them Trump favors legal immigration and worries about “desperate” people who cross the border at the hands of smugglers with little regard for migrants’ safety. He also stressed an interest in working with Congress on comprehensive immigration reform — a position welcomed by Republican strategist Mercedes Viana Schlapp, another attendee.

“It was fascinating,” she said. “Unfortunately, the media seems to only cover the wall, and they miss the point. Working out a deal with Congress on immigration — it came from him, and it was very well received. I think that was part of the reason why people left the room feeling very upbeat.”

She added the meeting marked “huge progress,” especially because it brought together Hispanics from across the country, including California, New Mexico and Colorado.

Rivera, the pastor, noted her ministers’ association put out more than 200,000 “voters’ guides” for conservatives in the last election, and helped re-elect Florida Gov. Rick Scott. The group might soon be interested in doing much the same for Trump.

“He has shown throughout the process that, when educated, he’s willing to make changes and change course,” Rivera said. “If he continues to be open, we’ll be able to tell all of our members that, and I think they’re going to support him.”