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Trump victory heightens anxiety in LI’s Latino immigrant community

Michelle Contreras, 19, of Brentwood watches results come

Michelle Contreras, 19, of Brentwood watches results come in on election night at Make The Road New York, on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

Many of the dozens of Latino immigrants and their allies who had gathered for a Tuesday night “watch party” in Brentwood had walked the streets, registered voters and knocked on doors to ask people to go to the polls.

But as they settled to dine on chicken and rice and watch election returns, it quickly became very clear that things weren’t going their way. State and congressional races kept favoring candidates that espoused tougher immigration enforcement.

And Donald Trump, the Republican nominee who made a tough stance of illegal immigration a centerpiece of his presidential campaign, was surging past Hillary Clinton, a Democrat who promised to keep immigrant families together.

People started leaving the party and those who stayed were stunned silent, until organizers called it off before midnight. The strong support Clinton registered with Latinos was not making a difference in such key states as Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, or even on Long Island races.

Norma Casimiro and Abel Tamayo, Mexican immigrants who came illegally and are raising children here, sat worrying.

“It looks like Americans got carried away with Trump’s promises,” Tamayo, 40, said in Spanish. “He has been telling them that he is going to make America great again, but the country is in very good shape. . . . What we see is more racism.”

Tamayo, a self-employed handyman, said he was concerned about their children having a shot at the American dream.

That family’s anxiety is not unique after Trump’s victory.

Many young immigrants were calling advocacy groups, concerned about the “deferred action” program — authorized by President Barack Obama to shield millions of minors brought illegally. Others wondered if the president-elect will fulfill a campaign promise of massive deportations. They all had heard the lines about building the wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, aimed at keeping out immigrants like many of them.

Activists worried about programs for the needy being gutted, particularly Obama’s health care act.

“Everyone is trying to grapple with what this will mean,” said Walter Barrientos, Long Island organizer for Make The Road New York, the group that hosted the watch party at its Brentwood office. “It really feels . . . like a threat that comes in one day” and changes life for many immigrants, he said.

Hispanics who are U.S. citizens did vote strongly for Clinton, but they weren’t the electoral firewall touted by pundits.

Postelection poll results by Latino Decisions, a firm in Seattle, Washington, that specializes on the Latino electorate, found Clinton captured 79 percent of the national Hispanic vote, as compared to Trump’s 18 percent. In New York, that difference rose to an eight-to-one margin, with 88 percent Latino support for Clinton and 10 percent for Trump. CNN exit polls indicated that Trump may have gained Latino support over Mitt Romney’s attempt to defeat Obama in 2012, but this multistate survey didn’t bear out that finding.

Latino support was overcome by Trump’s appeal and the weakening of Obama’s diverse coalition, said Gabriel Sanchez, political science professor at the University of New Mexico and principal at Latino Decisions, said Wednesday in an interview.

“A lot of Latino voters will wake up and say ‘Hey, we turned out in big numbers and it still didn’t happen,’ but in terms of governing Donald Trump will have to pivot from winning the campaign to governing the nation, and he will see the vast majority of Latino voters rejected his campaign,” Sanchez said. “I suspect he won’t have the same highly hostile rhetoric.”

To Rafael Flores, a Westbury resident and Salvadoran immigrant who is a Trump supporter, others are overreacting.

Flores expects Trump will move to control the border, but will eventually work on an immigration compromise. He said in an interview Wednesday that he likes Trump because he drives a hard bargain and he “is not going to give blank checks anymore to these Central American governments where there is so much corruption going on.”

Immigrant advocates working with Latinos, Asians and Muslims were vowing to re-examine strategies, improve outreach beyond their communities and go into protective mode.

“Absolutely, immigrants are terrified,” Thanu Yakupitiyage, spokeswoman for the statewide New York Immigration Coalition, said Wednesday in an interview. “We are going to be mobilizing and organizing to create a strong infrastructure to both work with Trump and combat any anti-immigrant policies that come our way.”


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