Jake Monty, a former member of President Trump’s National Hispanic Advisory Council, once argued the “Latino case” for supporting the billionaire mogul’s presidential campaign but jumped ship in the middle of the 2016 campaign when Trump’s immigration proposals hardened in the mold of his nationalist advisers.
Yahoo News reached out to Monty to see what he thinks now about Trump’s immigration policies, particularly the internment of undocumented children. He said it’s troubling to see the administration let the fate of undocumented immigrants be determined by a political agenda.
“The brinkmanship he is playing on this issue is scary,” he said.
Monty, a third-generation Mexican-American whose wife was born in Mexico, has spent most of his career advocating for immigrant rights as a lawyer in Texas. He was unusual in supporting a candidate who notoriously launched his campaign with a speech calling Mexican immigrants drug smugglers and rapists. But Monty, a conservative Republican, was willing to give the businessman the benefit of the doubt over Hillary Clinton, who he said had played “a cynical game with immigrant lives” as senator and whose husband’s crackdown on undocumented workers was draconian.
But the Trump administration is separating children from their parents when they illegally cross the border into the United States. It ended the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which gave temporary legal status to the children of undocumented immigrants.
“In addition to the child-separation policy, which is mean-spirited, misguided and actually makes the problem worse, I think there are other issues that are very concerning as well,” Monty told Yahoo News. “The DACA problem has not been solved. This is a problem that he’s made worse because he’s the one who abrogated DACA. If any kids fall out of status or get deported, it’s going to be on his watch.”
Monty gave credit to Trump for condemning MS-13, which he has done consistently since becoming president, as a scourge on the immigrant community, but thinks the Trump administration’s overall nativism is harmful to the Latino community.
Of course, he said, Hispanic and Latino people care about issues other than immigration. But it’s hard to get beyond words like “animals” or “illegals” used in reference to humans. Just last month, Trump said, “We’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals.”
Monty said rhetoric like this has severely damaged the Republican Party’s reputation among Hispanics.
“At the back of your mind you’re thinking, ‘Wow, this is the same party that referred to them as animals. If I weren’t in a suit and $3,000 cowboy boots, would they think that I’m illegal too or that I’m a ‘wetback’? That is the problem,” he said.
“Wetback” is a slur on Mexican immigrants who entered the United States by crossing the Rio Grande.
On Aug. 20, 2016, Monty attended a meeting of Trump’s National Hispanic Advisory Council, made up of business, civic and religious leaders. Trump reportedly told the council he’d be more moderate in office than his campaign rhetoric was signaling. Afterward, Trump held a rally in Austin where he floated the idea of letting undocumented immigrants without a criminal record and with longstanding ties to America stay in the U.S. There were reports that Trump would announce a major change to his immigration policy in a speech in Colorado, a moderate purple state.
At first, Monty said, it seemed that everything the campaign had told him (and that he predicted in his op-ed piece) was coming to fruition. But that glimmer of hope faded quickly. First, the announcement was scheduled for Aug. 31 in Arizona, a red state.
“Then the Hispanic council wasn’t invited to that speech, lo and behold,” Monty said. “There was nothing resembling what he talked about to us at Trump Tower in that speech.”
“Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation,” Trump declared. Monty resigned from Trump’s council the next day.
“It was a great group of people. I know some of the people who stayed on. Others resigned,” Monty said. “I was proud to serve on it before the Aug. 31 speech in Phoenix. But after that speech, there was no way I could stay on.”
The National Hispanic Advisory Council had roughly two dozen members at the time. There were conflicting reports on just how many left alongside Monty. The RNC told BuzzFeed News at the time that only two left. Monty said the council continues to exist — hosting events and conducting outreach to the Hispanic community — but has struggled to find additional Hispanic advisers who want to be affiliated with the administration.
Monty blames Attorney General Jeff Sessions and senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller for the administration’s draconian measures against undocumented families at the border. He was glad to see right-wing political strategist Steve Bannon leave the White House. Nevertheless, he said Trump cannot escape responsibility for having empowered them.
Monty still hopes that the more moderate Donald Trump he thought he once knew will show up again.
“Which Donald Trump will it be? The businessman, the dealmaker, the guy who has reached across the aisle to make deals with Democrats on budget issues? Or will it be the leader of the mob who wants to score points with his base and keep people riled up? I’m certainly hoping it’s the former and not the latter.”
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