The Trump Administration’s Guide to Building Walls and Mending Fences

Over the last several weeks, the Trump Administration has invested considerable energy into reaching out to the Hispanic and Latino business community.

While President Trump has not yet made an appearance at any Latino event or gathering since the inauguration, his administration has been steadily, visibly increasing its outreach in hopes of garnering support.

The president’s surrogates continue to underscore that he is “in the promise-keeping business,” and that among these promises are job creation, business deregulation, repealing “Obamacare,” and curbing illegal immigration in part by building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The immigration issue creates an interesting conundrum for the president — if he truly wishes to mend fences with those Hispanics and Latinos who took umbrage at his previous, terse remarks about Mexico, Mexicans and undocumented immigrants.

No doubt, outreach to the Hispanic and Latino community presents significant opportunities. But it also presents potential land mines, not only with his detractors, but also with many who voted for him.

Nonetheless, the administration’s strategy signals an attempt to mend fences with the Latino community (although not at the expense of scrapping plans for the wall or increasing deportations).

Key administration officials are aggressively courting the buy-in of Hispanic and Latino business owners and entrepreneurs who likely would benefit from a less onerous regulatory climate and lower taxes.

Yet, among lingering issues is that many business owners also seek to cater to a diverse group of Latino consumers, many of whom live in “mixed-status” households.

So it begs the question: Could publicly supporting the president or his agenda damage the brand of some of these Hispanic and Latino businesses with a portion of their customer base? And given that potential pitfall, will many embrace the Trump agenda, or publicly decry it?

The answer probably is … it depends. If the right surrogates continue to help the president improve the tone of the conversation, and those efforts are coupled with great results for Latino businesses’ bottom lines, then hope remains for an economically stronger and more unified America.

Visibility at a number of recent events may herald advances.

In the month of March alone, Trump surrogates participated in two separate national Hispanic and Latino business policy summits to help make the case for the administration’s agenda, including deregulation and job creation as well as immigration, health care, education and tax reform.

First, Vice President Pence delivered a strong, heartfelt keynote address at The Latino Coalition’s (TLC) Policy Summit: Make Small Business Great Again.”

At that summit, Pence assured attendees that the Trump administration would “take a compassionate approach” to immigration, while maintaining a commitment to “supporting the rule of law.”

While details of the president’s immigration reform proposal remain unknown — the criteria for deportation of criminals, or a payment plan for the wall along the southern border, for examples — the vice president’s tone and delivery presented a stark departure from past incendiary rhetoric.

Many attendees noted Pence’s apparent sincerity, respect and appreciation for the contributions of the Latino business community. “The fact is, Hispanics are driving entrepreneurship and economic growth like never before,” the vice president said.

Additionally, in mid-March the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) hosted Ivanka Trump for a roundtable discussion with female Hispanic small-business owners during its 2017 Legislative Summit, an event which also featured former governor of Texas and Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

No doubt, the administration’s courting of Latino business leaders likely will continue – or at least for practical matters, it should. The Trump administration needs the support of Latino entrepreneurs who can help explain how the president’s priorities can help reinvigorate the national economy and strengthen local communities.

The question remaining is whether President Trump will join his surrogates and more conspicuously acknowledge the contributions of Americans of Latino and Hispanic descent.

If President Trump has any real interest in mending fences with American Latinos, and not just in building walls to “protect” them, he must learn to exhibit the type of sincerity, warmth and communication style his vice president conveyed during his keynote at The Latino Coalition’s Policy Summit this year. He may also take a cue from the finesse of his daughter Ivanka, whose recent appearance with Latina business leaders was a winning one.

It will be interesting to see whether the president capitalizes on his administration’s progress.

Sandra Pedroarias is director of Hispanic and Latino outreach for Think Freely Media (TFM) and manages Think Freely Latino (TFL) (www.thinkfreelylatino.org), a TFM project. She previously served as senior adviser to the U.S. treasurer and acting director of Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State.

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