The U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which represents 3.2 million Latino business owners, agreed to an Oct. 8 public Q&A session with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump after a private meeting Tuesday.
Chamber CEO and president Javier Palomarez met with Trump at the Republican field leader's Manhattan offices Tuesday. He did so at he request of Trump's political adviser Michael Cohen and spokeswoman Hope Hicks who had been asking for the meeting for about three weeks, Palomarez said.
Trump has stirred antagonism within much of the Hispanic community since he declared his run for presidency by saying Mexico was sending criminals, rapists and drug traffickers to the U.S. Those comments and others that followed led to several businesses severing ties with him, starting with Univision, which aired Miss Universe pageants in partnership with Trump.
"Agree with him or not, whether or not we are in support of him. We still don't see eye to eye with him, but that's beside the point. Our job is to remain non partisan, to give candidates the forum so they can talk in greater detail about their policies," Palomarez told NBC News.
"I believe our constituency of 3.2 million job creators deserves to hear directly from anybody looking to move into the White House," Palomarez said.
Other candidates have participated in similar sessions and "we needed to afford him that same opportunity," Palomarez said.
The chamber is a non-profit and therefore can't endorse or take partisan sides, but it has been supportive of many aspects of immigration reform and backed the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform legislation the Senate passed in summer of 2013, which House Republicans refused to act on.
The chamber said Trump's meeting request was predicated on his view that his stances were mischaracterized by media. The chamber said Palomarez met privately with Trump to give Trump a chance to "clearly articulate his views, away from the public spectacle, the media, and the debate floor" as the USHCC has done for other candidates.
Palomarez refused to say whether the media has mischaracterized Trump. He said he has disagreed with what Trump has said in the coverage, but he also said: "Clearly, again, the individual that I just spent an hour and half with privately is very different than the individual seen in media."
He added that if the same Donald Trump he met with privately is the Trump that shows up at the Q&A, he "will be a very different Donald Trump." Humility, grace and hospitality were the words Palomarez used to describe the private Trump.
"I'm giving him the opportunity to do publicly, what he just did in private," Palomarez said.
Most recently, Trump has generated a backlash in parts of the Latino community following a confrontation with Univision anchor Jorge Ramos in a news conference. Ramos was forced out of the news conference after he shouted a question about immigrants to Trump before being called on. Trump told him to "Go Back to Univision." Ramos was later allowed back into the news conference and asked several questions.
Palomarez has asked previous candidates about what he often describes as "Hispandering," candidates pandering to their Latino audience by softening or changing views or saying things to a Latino audience that they don't say to audiences that are predominantly white.
"We'll cover that (Hispandering) ground when he is in front of us," Palomarez told NBC News. "If I get a sense he is Hispandering, we'll press to get to the bottom of the issue, Palomarez said. As with other sessions, media will be allowed to ask questions.
The USHCC has held similar Q&A sessions with GOP presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas and with Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. A session with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was agreed to but a date is under negotiation.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, will speak at the USHCC convention in Houston later this month. Trump had inquired about speaking at the convention, but the schedule was full, Palomarez said.
Palomarez's mother is an immigrant from Mexico. Under him, the chamber has been vocally supportive of immigration reform and he often emphasizes the contributions of immigrants who have created U.S. businesses and are business leaders.
Trump has boasted that he will win the Hispanic vote because he creates jobs for Latinos and they love him because they have found employment with him.
However, polls have shown a high dislike for Trump among Latinos, statements he's made – that Mexico is sending rapists, criminals and drug couriers. His policy views – to deport the 11 million people here illegally and make them apply to return and to build a wall with Mexico and make Mexico pay for it – have not proven popular with a majority of Latino voters.
The Hispanic business sector could be a constituency for Trump might have found more support from as a businessman. Latinos and immigrants are driving new business creation.
A number of Latino business owners are immigrants, children of immigrants or have immigrant employees. But for many Latinos, immigrant or otherwise, how immigrants are treated and discussed by politicians and other public officials often factors into perception on whether the Latino community is respected by that person.