Trump needs to demonstrate understanding of immigrants’ plight

A New England politician asked me for information on winning the Hispanic vote. I know she’ll make poor use of what I sent her, because I didn’t give enough detail and she didn’t ask for more.

Because most people in business and politics know little about how immigrants think, they struggle to implement a sensible, consistent plan to reach them. Strange as it sounds, Donald Trump can easily reach Hispanics if he wants to — if he understands how.

First, he has to realize that the 40 or 50 million people in the United States who are classified as Hispanic are as different as night and day from each other. Many don’t care about what Trump has said about Mexicans. They don’t care about Mexicans. Many Mexicans don’t care about what Trump says about Mexicans. They strongly agree with him about immigration.

Second, it’s not enough for Trump to realize the diversity among Hispanics. He must speak in ways that show he understands the immigrant’s journey and dreams while explaining that America is a land of law for the most part, and that law is necessary for orderly living.

A large number of immigrants have entered the U.S. with little understanding of the benefits of law. At the same time, they don’t believe people have the right to cross borders any old time. If Trump can talk this line just right, Hispanics will acknowledge him as a realistic man instead of a hater of foreigners.

That’s a tricky challenge that is not easy to get right. Politicians rarely do. They offer free stuff instead, or they cross their fingers and hope to say something that sounds like they will make changes that will help Hispanics.

Or, as in George W. Bush’s case, a Hispanic relative throws a fist into the air and shouts, “Viva la Raza!” and a news commentator says, “That’s a powerful statement.” But it’s not, and it can backfire, since many Hispanics are not of “la Raza” or don’t self-identify with it. These voters know they’re being played.

My third point is closely related to the previous one. Hispanic immigrants who can vote must hear Trump detail the reasons why a tighter border would improve life for everyone. Crowds of immigrants in the U.S. would love to see other immigrants deported. Deportation can win as many friends as it does enemies.

It also can be discussed without creating many enemies. This requires a 360-degree view of the immigrants’ situation. Not a single Hispanic politician has been up to this, because it takes more than words. It takes a panoramic perspective, and being Hispanic is no advantage.

Fourth, Trump should ignore activists who claim to speak for Hispanics. Hispanics can be the most politically irreverent people on the planet. If Trump knows how to take advantage of that, word will get around that he’s serious about getting good things done and that his blustery talk just goes with the territory.

That means Trump would need to know the precise talking points that demonstrate a two-sided understanding of Hispanic immigrants who were not born here. They have many sympathizers. His messages would have to reflect admiration and awareness regarding the human pursuit of surviving and getting ahead, and carefully state the steps for merging into another society in a way that respects the new homeland.

In my lifetime, no politician has ever done what I’m saying. But it could be done. In the process, and with a bit of tweaking, millions of immigrants from around the world would be astonished at Mr. Trump and would consider casting their vote for him.

The average business person, politician and adviser thinks that an immigrant can deliver the messages more effectively. This is naïve. One of Trump’s strongest qualifications for reaching the immigrants is that he is not one of them: He can be the host who lays out the welcome mat.

Max T. Russell of New Palestine writes for the international business intelligence and nonprofit communities.