Massey Villarreal, a Houston businessman who once opposed Donald Trump and now is supporting him, is hoping to hear some compassion from the GOP nominee when he tackles immigration in a speech Wednesday night in Arizona after traveling to Mexico and meeting with president Enrique Peña Nieto.
What Villareal doesn’t want to hear: “I don’t want to hear him espouse Ted Cruz’s immigration plan,” said Villarreal, who has been active in the local and national Republican party.
Cruz, the Texas senator who failed to win the GOP nomination, earned the disdain of Villarreal and other GOP Latinos after his campaign staffer told a group of Hispanics Cruz’s immigration plan was “attrition through enforcement.” The group saw that as similar to the self-deportation plan that Mitt Romney backed in 2012.
That tactic essentially means making life so miserable for immigrants here illegally through arrests, raids and other tactics that they will leave.
“I want some compassion. I do want to enforce the law. Unfortunately 11 million got through - how do we deal with it?” Villarreal said.
On the eve of Trump's speech in Phoenix – postponed from last week – it still was unclear how Trump planned to address the 11 million people who arrived or stayed illegally in the country.
After meeting with GOP Latinos Aug. 20 at his home, some GOP Hispanics thought he might offer legalization to the 11 million.
“It seemed like it at first, and me as a Republican, I’m hopeful,” said Artemio Muniz, head of the Texas Federation of Hispanic Republicans, said of what he thought might come from Trump after the meeting.
Soon after the meeting, Trump said there'd be some softening on immigration and discussed working with immigrants here illegally.
But Trump has since said he’s not “softening” on immigration and his campaign has been pushing the law and order, border security first, build a wall, no amnesty rhetoric in the media.
Vice presidential candidate and running mate Mike Pence has said many of those here illegally will be allowed to remain after they first leave, repeating something similar to an idea Trump floated last summer. At that time, Trump said he would remove all 11 million people living here illegally and have them return in “an expedited way.”
"It's confusing. It's very confusing and this is not the time to be confusing if you are trying to win the Hispanic vote. I wonder if he really is," Muniz said.
The back and forth led Muniz to believe Trump had plans for what he called "some kind of DACA regime." DACA is the acronym for the program President Barack Obama authorized for young immigrants here illegally to shield them from deportation and allow them to work.
They aren't on a path to legalization, but they've been able to remain in the country and work. Republicans have tried repeatedly to repeal the program and a court battle over it is ongoing.
Muniz is not yet in Trump's camp but said he wants to support him and help him. He said he'd do so if “he does not deport hard-working people who are wealth creators. That would be way better than the Democratic Party that is deporting and breaking up families in record numbers." He said he does not want to see the raids at workplaces and schools and the "inhumane" tactics that have been used against hard-working immigrants.
Mike Madrid, a Republican operative who will not vote for Trump, said how Latinos respond to Trump's speech Wednesday is not the point.
“There is no doubt in my mind he is not trying to appeal to the Latino vote,” said Madrid, a principal at Grassroots Lab in California. “What they are really concerned about is the general gap and leakage with moderate voters, people who can't stomach Hillary and are looking to come back to the party.”
Madrid said working to gain those voters is not something new. It’s why Republican operatives developed the concept of a “compassionate conservative.” That idea moves some Latinos and African Americans, but it brings about more response in closing the gender gap, he said.
In his recent shakeup, Trump tapped pollster Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager and Madrid said he sees change in the campaign's messaging and it adopting a more sophisticated way of how they are discussing immigration.
But Madrid doubts the change will work in winning over women and moderates. “The brand is set in stone. After a harsh year and a half of rhetoric, it’s a challenge to get there,” he said.
Trump opponents have been making the most of his failure to clearly articulate his immigration policies.
On a telephone conference call Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat and Clinton surrogate, said Trump recognizes he is “losing in Arizona.”
Polls have shown a tight race in the state that has usually voted Republican.
“Donald Trump recognizes he is losing Arizona. The polling in Arizona is tight and for the first time in a long time we can say Arizona is a swing state,” Gallego said.
“I don’t think Arizona voters are going to be fooled, especially Latino voters,” Gallego said. “Donald Trump has zero interest in helping with comprehensive immigration reform.”
Trump was to be joined at his speech by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who won a Republican primary Tuesday but faces a tough general election. Alejandra Gomez, board member of People United For Justice. Their side-by-side appearance, Gomez said, shows what can be expected from Trump.
Arpaio has made illegal immigration a centerpiece of his time as sheriff, setting up a tent city where immigrants were incarcerated in sweltering Arizona heat and forced to wear pink uniforms. The Justice Department is considering criminal contempt charges against Arpaio for failing to follow federal court order to end racial profiling of Latinos, which he was found to have engaged in as he .
“We do not welcome Trump here," Gomez said. "We do not need to repeat those years when we could not step foot outside, when our families' homes were raided and when we saw their faces pressed up against glass windows on the bus that would take them away from us."