In East Las Vegas, Trump rails against Biden on immigration, courts Hispanic voters

Just 12 days before Donald Trump is set to cruise to victory in the Nevada Republican presidential caucus, the former president appeared in Las Vegas for a rally that reflected his attempt to shift focus to the general election.

Trump’s 75-minute speech focused heavily on immigration, attacking President Joe Biden’s border policies as extremist and overtly pitching himself to Hispanic voters — all while Vice President Kamala Harris was making official and campaign stops around Las Vegas and getting ready to host a get-out-the-vote event at a union hall less than two miles away.

“The so-called border security deal Biden is gushing out and pushing out is not designed to stop illegal immigration. It’s designed to continue the invasion of America while sending billions of dollars to Ukraine and other countries,” Trump said, continuing efforts to blow up a bipartisan deal that could grant Biden’s administration the authority to shut down the border if a certain number of border encounters happen in a day. 

Trump also pledged to amp up his efforts to repel and expel immigrants from the country if elected this year, saying “within moments of my inauguration, we will begin the largest domestic deportation operation.”

Though thousands filled an intramural soccer field-turned-stage in East Las Vegas Saturday, many among the crowd of fervent supporters — still largely white in a neighborhood where more than half of residents are Hispanic — came from far and wide, creating a sea of red “Make America Great Again” hats in the audience. The park where Trump spoke was in a precinct where nearly 74 percent of voters voted for Biden in 2020. 

Nevada’s Latinos have formed a key voting bloc for each party, as Democrats try to shore up support from their traditional base in the battleground state and as Republicans pitch the party to a group of voters who have slowly drifted away from the Democratic Party in recent years.

But as Republicans in Texas and Florida have seized on Latinos as a new key constituency, Hispanic voters in Nevada have still largely continued to back Democrats

Jesus Marquez, a Las Vegas-based political consultant and Trump surrogate, told The Nevada Independent on Saturday that incremental gains — winning a third of Hispanic voters in 2020 — were gains nonetheless. 

“That’s still much better than what Mitt Romney did,” Marquez said. Romney won 25 percent of the Hispanic vote in Nevada.

Trump said during his speech that “we’re doing better now” than Democrats “with the Hispanic vote” — a reference to recent polls showing him outperforming Biden among those voters despite Biden’s strength with Latino voters in 2020 — while describing unauthorized immigration as detrimental specifically to Hispanic and African American citizens. He also accused the Biden administration of persecuting Catholics, a religion that includes a plurality of U.S. Latinos and Biden himself

“Did you see the poll today? I’m leading in the Hispanic community,” he said. “It’s the first time in the history of the poll, this particular one, where a Republican is leading with Hispanics.”

The dueling visits are evidence of Trump’s apparent collision course with Biden, as the two are on track to once again be their party’s nominees. During his speech, Trump repeated attacks on Biden on key motivating issues for his GOP base, including immigration and border security, as the Democratic National Committee looked to attack Trump on abortion, a key issue for Democratic voters, by flying a plane banner over Las Vegas that read “Donald Trump: Ban Abortion, Punish Women.”

Though Trump still faces one other major challenger in former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, she is running in the state’s primary, not the party-run caucus, in which Trump will face Texas pastor and banking CEO Ryan Binkley as the two competing in the only contest used to allocate delegates for the Republican National Convention. 

Trump opponents have sharply criticized the dueling primary and caucus — former operatives for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called the caucus “rigged” last year, while Haley told reporters in New Hampshire this week that she would skirt Nevada to focus on “states that are fair.” 

But in Nevada, where Trump has never won the popular vote and where few Republicans have won statewide races since 2014, the state’s remaining GOP establishment has all fallen in behind Trump. 

Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo endorsed Trump last week, telling The Nevada Independent he would caucus for the former president and vote “none of the above” in the primary — a rejection of Haley’s candidacy in all but name. Lombardo was not at Saturday’s rally, though Republican Lt. Gov. Stavros Anthony made an appearance, telling the crowd the pair were seeking to “make Nevada great again.” 

Other Trump allies in Nevada have also intensified their criticism of Haley, who has pledged to continue battling Trump’s campaign in South Carolina ahead of that state’s GOP primary on Feb. 24. On X, formerly Twitter, Sigal Chattah — a national GOP committeewoman representing Nevada who was among the pre-Trump speakers Saturday — called Haley a “recalcitrant obstructionist” who needed to “switch teams.” 

Trump, speaking Saturday, said Haley’s New Hampshire support came from non-Republicans, and warned Nevadans against “wasting your time” on the state-run primary. Trump added that Haley has avoided Nevada because of her lack of support in the Silver State.

“She didn’t come to Nevada because they looked at the polls. I was at 97 percent. She said, ‘I think we’re not going to win Nevada,’” he said, though no public polls have shown such figures.  

Harris, meanwhile, was in Southern Nevada to drum up support for the Biden-Harris ticket on the first day of early voting for the state’s presidential primaries.

Find a list of primary voting locations by county here. To learn more about the primaries and caucus, read here.

Trump’s planned rally also came just one day after a New York jury ruled that Trump must pay journalist and author E. Jean Carroll more than $83 million in damages for defamation. He had previously been found liable for defaming Carroll by mocking her allegation that he’d sexually abused her. He only vaguely referenced the decision, saying “look at yesterday, look at all this crap going on.”

Immigration takes center stage 

As an accelerating dispute between Texas’ Republican governor and the Biden administration has put a spotlight on border issues, Trump spent much of his speech telling freewheeling stories about his negotiations with Mexico during his time in office, interspersed with attacks on Biden and a border that was an “open wound.”

It was a welcome stump for some of the attendees waiting in line, for whom immigration remains a key issue, despite polling showing that Nevadans typically rank immigration within the top six

In his speech, Trump said that thousands of terrorists, rapists and criminals are “flowing in” through the southern border and pledged to send financial and military support to finish the border wall and protect it. 

He also focused parts of his speech on support for Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who Lombardo and other Republican governors have backed for Texas’ use of razor wire barriers along the border, despite the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Border Patrol agents can cut the wire. Several migrants have died attempting to cross that section of the border.

“It has never been worse than it is now,” Trump said. “So now Biden is trying to gaslight the American public by claiming his border disaster is Republicans’ fault.”

Trump added that he would implement a “catch and release in Mexico” policy. 

For Dorothy Caperonis, who was holding an “Asian Pacific’s for Trump” sign, growing up in San Diego near where thousands of people cross to and from Mexico every day shaped the views she has today. 

“We need a border wall. We need something. And it’s always been like that since I was little,” Caperonis said, adding it took her Japanese mother 10 years to become naturalized. 

Susan Russell, a 60-year-old Las Vegas real estate agent also standing in line, added that legal immigration is not the problem. 

“Trump also wants a path to citizenship. And I think that’s very important. There are people that have been in this country 25 years, paying taxes, contributing to society, and they need a path to citizenship,” Russell said. “And I believe that if he gets elected back into office, he’s not gonna let anybody get in his way.” 

Russell pointed out her shirt that said, “Dictator for a day, close the border and drill.”

“I just hope that the American senators stay out of his way because Trump knows what the American people want,” she said.

Some argue that unauthorized immigrants divert government resources that could otherwise benefit veterans, the unhoused population and low-income families. 

“How are we supporting [illegal immigration] if we can’t even support our homeless people — driving here we see homeless on the street — or the veterans?” said attendee Jim Cleary. “There’s people who are still waiting to be registered citizens who have been waiting years. They are more than welcome to come here and participate and join the economy and pay taxes, all those things, but they have to follow a process. It shouldn’t be allowed without that.”

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