The black bins outside the Supermercado El Mariachi grocery on Decker Boulevard’s “international corridor” hold free copies of the Spanish-language Viva Newspaper with a smiling President-elect Donald Trump on the cover.
The headline, in red and white bold letters, reads: “Ganó Trump – ¿Y Ahora?”
“Trump Wins – Now What?”
It’s a question many Columbia-area Hispanics have struggled to answer since the New York Republican’s surprise election on Nov. 8.
Since then, the celebrity real estate mogul has retreated from his more aggressive immigration proposals, promising, for instance, to deport only undocumented immigrants with criminal records immediately. That stance has some support within Columbia’s Hispanic community.
But two months before his inauguration, questions about Hispanic-American life under Trump abound.
Some are optimistic Trump’s campaign rhetoric was just that – empty promises offered to get elected. Others are worried Trump will not stop at deporting undocumented immigrants with rap sheets.
“We are afraid that he might want to kick everybody out,” said Ana Vasquez, 29, who moved to the United States from Mexico 15 years ago.
A step back
Trump kicked off his presidential campaign by calling some Mexican immigrants drug dealers, rapists and criminals, though he added, “some, I assume, are good people.”
During his campaign, he promised to deport the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, build an impenetrable wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and make Mexico pay, eliminate sanctuary cities and triple the number of immigration enforcement agents.
Many voters nationwide rallied behind those proposals.
Illegal immigration strains police, health care, education and other government services, costing U.S. taxpayers and diluting the U.S. workforce, said Jerry Rovner, a Georgetown County delegate to the Republican National Convention this summer.
“Why aren’t we taking care of our people?” said Rovner, one of nine S.C. electors who will cast votes for Trump next month. “Why aren’t we taking care of our homeless? Why do we care about people who aren’t Americans right now? Maybe they will be great Americans one day, but not right now. We should be taking care of America first.”
Trump did not prove popular among Hispanic-American voters.
He won 29 percent of the Hispanic vote on Election Day, 2 percentage points more than fellow Republican Mitt Romney in 2012 but 36 points behind Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Some local Hispanics say Trump’s rhetoric since he become president-elect has been more palatable.
In an interview with CBS, Trump said his proposed wall on the Mexican border partly would be a fence.
He also said he immediately would deport up to 3 million undocumented immigrants with criminal records and decide later what to do with the remaining undocumented immigrants. Some, he said, are “terrific people.”
That’s reasonable, some local Hispanics say.
“You come for a better opportunity,” said Catherine Alfaro, a 25-year-old insurance agent whose parents are from El Salvador. “If you don’t do anything for it, you might as well not be here.”
Carlos Gamboe, a 38-year-old carpenter from Mexico, said deporting the bad eggs might curb the stereotype that immigrants are criminals.
But he cautioned against deporting immigrants whose only crime was entering the country illegally. Creating a deportation force would prove costly, and the U.S. economy could suffer from millions of workers leaving.
“If he did that, he would lose a lot of money,” Gamboe said.
‘The cards they’ve been dealt’
Many of the Hispanics and Latinos who work, eat or shop on Decker Boulevard know someone who is undocumented.
“I hear their stories. I know their work ethic, and I applaud them,” said Eli Ramos, a 32-year-old Allstate insurance agent who moved to the United States from the American territory of Puerto Rico when he was 11 and now works on the self-proclaimed international corridor.
Ramos said most of the undocumented immigrants he deals with work hard. They hold family values. Some are escaping drugs and crime in Mexico. Others are only here for a time, working to send money back home.
“When you get to know enough of them, enough of these undocumented people who are here in this country, you really empathize with them,” Ramos said. “You come to realize, wow, this person is doing the best that they can with the cards they’ve been dealt.”
Lately, Ramos said, some clients have come in nervous about Trump’s election.
“They don’t come here to rape. They come here to work,” he said. “Let them work. Let them live, and hopefully, in the process, let them work toward becoming citizens.”
Some undocumented immigrants are becoming more cautious when dealing with the government as a result.
Yolanda Mendiola, a 28-year-old from Mexico who has lived in Columbia the past 14 years, is working toward her high school equivalency degree through an adult education program.
She wants to one day go to college. But not if that means submitting forms that might help the federal government target her for deportation.
“I don’t want to go back to Mexico,” she said.
Hoping for the best
Area Hispanics, some of whom voted for the Republican, say they hope President Trump is different from candidate Trump.
“The way he speaks is too strong,” said Alfaro, who joined her mother in voting for Trump. “If he would change the way he speaks – the tone, the words – it would help a lot.”
Many of Columbia’s Hispanic-American residents say they do not know what to expect from a Trump White House.
But they hope for empathy and reason.
“You have to give an opportunity to people that work here because the children are the ones that suffer” from deportations, said Juan Rivera, the 41-year-old owner of the Tacos Nayarit Mexican food truck and restaurant. “The children that were born here are going to have to go to Mexico. And what are they going to do there? Violence. Gangs. Drug cartels.”
Immigration and SC
1 in 10
10 percent of likely S.C. Republican voters in December 2015 said immigration was the most important issue in the 2016 presidential election.
1 in 20
Nearly 270,000 S.C. residents – or roughly 1 of every 20 South Carolinians – are Hispanic or Latino, a number that has almost tripled since 2000, according to U.S. Census data.
Almost 1 in 5
17.6 percent of the U.S. population in 2015 was Hispanic or Latino, up from 12.5 percent in 2000, according to Census data.