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Donald Trump loved and hated by Hispanics in border city

July 24, 2015

LAREDO, Texas (AP) — Billionaire businessman Donald Trump’s visit Thursday to a small Texas city on the U.S.-Mexico border where the Republican presidential candidate spent less than an hour touring the border, bragged to reporters about the danger he faced and proclaimed Hispanics love him.

Yet beyond the spectacle the celebrity known as The Donald seems to create wherever he goes, his visit exposed evidence of a divided community whose overwhelmingly Hispanic population both decried Trump as racist and cheered his hardline immigration views. Interviews during and after the whirlwind tour with more than a dozen local residents underscored the danger Trump represents to the Republicans’ complicated relationship with Hispanic voters and his appeal to a vocal segment of frustrated voters, many Hispanics among them, who see a glaring problem on the Mexican border that requires attention.

While Hispanic voters along the U.S.-Texas border have a unique perspective, the vast majority of America’s biggest minority group supports more forgiving immigration policies that would allow a pathway to citizenship or permanent residency for the millions of immigrants in the U.S. illegally, according to recent polls.

While Trump has dominated coverage of the Republican primary race lately, he remains a longshot for the White House. He is viewed favorably by just 28 percent of Americans and unfavorably by 58 percent, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll conducted earlier in the month. About one-third of whites, but just 16 percent of Hispanics and 10 percent of blacks, have a favorable view of Trump.

Jessica Gonzalez, 79, a retired housewife who was born and raised in Laredo, said she’d watched as the city she’d grown up in had changed, with restaurants replaced with Mexican food and new people coming in.

“I think he’s right,” she said in the parking lot of a local store. “All we have is people from foreign countries. ... It’s not like it used to be.”

Gonzalez — a Democrat — and her husband used to travel across the border frequently to shop and for entertainment, but are now afraid to cross because of violence from the drug cartels.

“I want to go down and say: Donald Trump, you’re on fire in Laredo! Because everybody feels what you think!” she said.

Outside Obregon’s Mexican Restaurant, Enrique Harrington Ramon, 75, said he felt Spanish-speaking immigrants “take advantage of us” in Laredo, and said people are responding to what Trump says “because it’s the truth.”

“I am sick of walking into a store and hearing ‘en que le puede ayudar?’ What country are we in?” he said.

Others in this growing city of about 250,000, where 95.6 percent of the population identified as Hispanic or Latino in 2010, lashed out at Trump, who described some Mexican immigrants in the country illegally as “rapists” and “criminals” during his announcement speech last month and has refused to apologize.

Laredo-born Tony Flores, 82, who was wearing a cap that identified him as a Korean War veteran, said of Trump: “He is poisonous. He is hatred.”

Trump has appeared to tone down his immigration rhetoric in recent days. He stressed he’s opposed to illegal immigration, not those immigrants who enter the country legally. And he noted that he has employed “tens of thousands” of immigrants over the years.

But he has thrust himself into America’s heated immigration debate, one that has put Republicans in a bind as they try to woo Hispanics, who have voted overwhelmingly Democratic in recent presidential elections.

“There’s great danger with the illegals,” Trump told reporters during his brief Laredo visit.

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Associated Press writer Seth Robbins contributed to this report.

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