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Latino Republicans Monitor Presidential Debate For Immigration Mentions


Last night's Republican presidential debate focused on the economy, but one of the most heated moments came during a discussion of another issue, immigration. In the debate on the Fox Business Network, Donald Trump praised a 1950s Eisenhower-era policy that forcibly deported hundreds of thousands of Mexicans who had entered the U.S. illegally.


DONALD TRUMP: Moved them just beyond the border, they came back. Moved them again beyond the border, they came back, didn't like it. Moved them way south, they never came back.


WERTHEIMER: For more on the Republican debate over immigration, we called Alfonso Aguilar. He is part of a group of prominent Hispanic Republicans critical of the way Donald Trump talks about immigration. Thank you very much for joining us.

ALFONSO AGUILAR: Good morning.

WERTHEIMER: Now this is not the first time Donald Trump has called for a mass deportations of undocumented immigrants. Do you think this is where U.S. immigration policy should go?

AGUILAR: No, not at all, and the example that he gives is terrible. The Eisenhower mass deportation policy was tragic. Human rights were violated. People were removed to distant locations without food and water. There were many deaths, unnecessary deaths. Sometimes even U.S. citizens of Hispanic origin, of Mexican origin, were removed. It was a travesty. It was terrible. Immigrants were humiliated. So to say that's a success story, it's ridiculous. It shows that Mr. Trump doesn't know what he's talking about.

WERTHEIMER: Do you think that when Gov. Jeb Bush said last night - well, let's talk. One of the things I thought was amazing is that the thing was called Operation Wetback.

AGUILAR: Correct.

WERTHEIMER: Does it concern you that Mr. Trump thinks it's a model?

AGUILAR: Oh, no, absolutely. I think - again, I mean, we're being very critical of Mr. Trump. I mean, he's talked about Operation Wetback before as a model, as an example. It's not. I mean, the majority of law enforcement officials, experts will tell you that there's no way we can deport 11 million undocumented immigrants. That's just not possible. It's not possible economically. We don't have the resources from a law enforcement perspective, and it's not the American way.


AGUILAR: So we were encouraged by listening to Gov. Bush defend immigrants that say, look, you know, we want him to come forward, pay a fine so it's not amnesty, and then give him path to legal status.

WERTHEIMER: He also brought up a political question, Mr. Bush did, where he said, even having this conversation sends a powerful signal. They're doing high-fives in the Clinton campaign right now when they hear this. Do you think he's right?

AGUILAR: He's absolutely right, and it was very upsetting for me and frustrating to listen to Ted Cruz double down on saying that what Bush was proposing, giving a path to legal status to undocumented immigrants after they pay a fine in back taxes, that's some form of amnesty, and that's ridiculous. Not only that, Sen. Cruz went beyond that, and now he argues like Sen. Sessions, a big restrictionist in the Senate, that immigration depresses wages for American workers, which is a total fallacy. That's the argument of nativists. So that's what Ted Cruz, a viable candidate, has embraced. So for Hispanic, very frustrating, and I think I would question his political judgment because if he's a GOP nominee, he would have very hard time to win over Hispanics with supporting with that kind of language and those kind of proposals.

WERTHEIMER: As you know, the Republican national committee pulled out of the Telemundo debate, which is scheduled for February. Was that a mistake?

AGUILAR: Well, I think I understand the reasoning behind it. I mean, CNBC debate was a travesty. I mean, last night we had a substantive debate. I think Fox Business News did a great job. However, I think it's important to have a debate targeting, focusing on the Hispanic community. I would reconsider Telemundo debate, or find an alternative forum so they can speak directly to Hispanics.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much.

AGUILAR: Thank you so much.

WERTHEIMER: Alfonso Aguilar is head of the American Principles Project Latino Partnership. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.