WASHINGTON - It's been more than three months since Donald Trump was inaugurated as the nation's 45th president. For many Latino leaders, the talk inevitably turns to the issue of the administration's policies and its Hispanic outreach.
Alex Veras, a Dominican American Republican activist in Massachusetts and self-described "Trump supporter from Day 1," said he is happy with what he’s seen so far from the White House. He points to a recent White House meeting with the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and says that several high-ranking White House officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, recently spoke at the pro-business Latino Coalition gathering in the nation’s capital.
"I believe he will be good for Hispanic entrepreneurs; you now you have a businessman running the country," said Veras, who is also an Army veteran.
The Senate recently confirmed the administration's first Latino Cabinet member, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta.
Latino Coalition board member Manny Rosales says the ties between the administration and the community are there. “You have high-ranking officials coming to talk with us and paying attention to us immediately. If we didn’t matter they wouldn’t be talking with us," Rosales said. "The president is interested in the community and what we have to say.”
But recently, a coalition of over 40 national Latino organizations held a press conference and criticized Trump's lack of outreach Hispanics.
“We are a bipartisan group and he hasn’t once reached out to us for a meeting even though we have requested it,” says Héctor Sánchez, president of the National Hispanic Leadership Association, or NHLA.
Janet Murguía, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, is blunt in her assessment of Trump's relationship with Latinos.
“I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s a new low in the relationship that the president’s office has had with the Latino community," said Murguía. "We’ve not agreed on policies and agendas with every president going back several decades, but I’ve never seen the mean-spiritedness that’s been directed at our community. It’s a historic low."
Murguia said her group "has not seen any effort to unite the country but rather to divide it - and now it feels like he’s institutionalized a lot of that rhetoric with the policies he’s promoting."
She also criticized the lack of Latino appointments and staffing and what she called the lack of inclusion of the Hispanic perspective in the administration.
"We’re concerned about what the future portends for Latinos in this environment,” said Murguía.
Stella Rouse, a University of Maryland professor and director of the university’s Center for American Politics and Citizenship, said the president has to reach out to Hispanics, "but he hasn't shown an inclination to do so. His inclination has been to speak to his base and sort of form a bubble around his base."
Rouse said that apart from not seeking Latinos, "he puts forth legislation that the community doesn’t want and he’s not taking the community’s perspective into consideration.”
Supporters like Veras defend the president's outlook and his way of doing things. “I like that he's upsetting the apple cart," said Veras. "I like that he was able to put someone on the Supreme Court, I like the executive orders ending some Obama-era policies, and I like that he’s not going to use the government to go after my guns,” said Veras.
But NCLR and other Latino groups point to the president’s repeated calls for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border -- something that Mexican officials call “a hostile act” - as well as his executive order targeting so-called sanctuary cities, his support for repealing Obamacare and budget proposals that would cut programs that benefit Latinos as examples of an early presidency that has had a negative effect on Latinos nationwide.
Moving forward, Rouse says making an effort to engage with the community would make more political sense for Trump.
“If he thinks that his base constituency of 30 percent is going to put him in a position to win reelection or even help Republicans in the midterm elections, that’s pretty ignorant on his part if that’s what he believes,” Rouse told NBC Latino.
Latino organizations like the NHLA have been mobilizing on issues where they feel like administration policies are running counter to Hispanic priorities.
Sánchez was at the recent Climate March in Washington, D.C. He said his group is concerned about the direction of policy under the Trump administration.
“It’s an issue that affects us directly - many of us live in environmentally unsound areas and we have an administration that is anti-environment. We need to get together and get more involved to fight this,” said Sánchez.
NCLR’s Murguía says she sees a “perverse silver lining” in that Trump is helping bring communities together. That type of civic participation is precisely what may help stop some of Trump’s policies.
“Many of the national civil rights groups and other organizations have come together and have felt the need to partner in earnest," said Murguía. "We can be assets to each other as we come together and there is a strength that I think can be positive as we push back (against Trump’s policies) and move forward.”