Several lawbreaking immigrants told VICE that no one takes the GOP candidate's aggressive rhetoric all that seriously.
The line near the San Diego/Mexico border crossing. Photo via Flickr user David Prasad
Of all the 2016 Republican Presidential candidates, reality TV star Donald Trump has unquestionably been the most controversial. He's generated headlines for lashing out at Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly in bizarre fashion after the first Republican debate, saying that Senator John McCain spending more than half a decade in a North Vietnamese prison camp doesn't make him a war hero, and referring broadly to Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals. Over the weekend, he laid out a policy plan that detailed how, if elected, he'd build a wall along the Mexican border, halt the issuing of new green cards, and attempt to enact various other extreme policies.
None of this has endeared him to Latinos, obviously. But how do actual Mexican criminals feel about Trump? To find out, VICE reached out to inmates serving time in federal prison for illegal reentry into the United States, one man who has already been deported back to Mexico, and first-generation Mexican-American drug dealers with intimate knowledge of the border. Somewhat stunningly, most of these guys—a small, shady subset of a larger demographic that generally obeys the law and contributes to the US economy—don't seem to mind Trump's aggressive rhetorical bluster.
In fact, some of them are laughing at him.
Carlos Lopez is a 40-something Mexican national who came to the United States when he was a child. Raised in the heart of Los Angeles, he is a self-proclaimed "drug dealer" who's served two prison terms in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) for nonviolent drug offenses. "Never once was I deported for those," Lopez told VICE during a telephone conversation. "They gave me parole and I stayed right there at my house in East LA."
An assault conviction that involved a weapon landed him back in prison for three additional years; when he was released, he was deported back to Mexico. "I came right here to my hometown in Michoacan and stayed with my family for a few months, then I went back to East LA," Lopez said.
Upon arrival in Juarez, Mexico, after being deported for another drug crime, Lopez says he and the Mexican nationals he traveled with were all told by Mexican border agents that if they were going to return to the US, now was the time.
"They told us Obama wouldn't send us back if they arrested us, as long as we didn't get busted for a violent crime," Lopez tells VICE. They also told them exactly where they should go: Oregon. "It's because we can get a driver's license there, no questions asked, and the background checks ain't shit."
In addition to encouraging the deportees to return to the states, some Mexican agents allegedly offered valid US identification for sale. For a grand, Lopez claims, he purchased the social security number of a deceased Mexican-American, stayed in his hometown of Michoacan for a few months, and then returned to America. "I'm a new Oregon citizen," Lopez says, laughing. "I even got a US passport and I went to Canada with it. And you know what else? I can vote!"
The Mexican people are well aware of what Trump has been saying about them, Lopez added, but no one he knows seems to care all that much. His comments suggest that even Trump's draconian policies wouldn't put an end to cross-border criminal activity. "No big wall or fence can stop us," he says. "Our politicians are bought off by the cartels, and the cartels and politicians want us in the United States, too."
Augustine Abascal is a first-generation Mexican American who is serving 120 months in federal prison for a drug conspiracy. His mother was deported back to Mexico following a conviction of her own for holding migrants crossing the border illegally in a safe house until their families sent them the money. He claims that US Border Patrol agents were involved in that operation.
"When I heard that Donald Trump said that the Mexican government was involved and that the Border Patrol agents were the ones who told him that, I thought, 'Those fools who told him are probably the guilty ones working with the Mexican government!' There's a lot of Border Patrol in the game. You can't stop illegal immigration."
Another immigrant we'll call Alberto says that harsh mandatory minimum legislation aimed at those who reenter the US after being deported currently being considered by Congress is totally unnecessary.
"We already can get up to 20 years in prison for reentry if we keep coming back," he says. "And what's the deal? Just because one crazy Mexican kills a chick [Kathryn Steinle] in San Francisco and Trump makes some noise about it means they wanna punish every illegal? I know people think that San Francisco is a 'Sanctuary City'"—Trump's immigration plan calls for the feds to defund cities that harbor illegal immigrants—"but the real deal is Oregon is a Sanctuary State, and there are over 400 places in the United States that won't touch us. Why should some of us get punished more harder than others just for being in the wrong state, and why make harder sentences if Obama says there's too many people in prison?"
A self-proclaimed "anchor baby" named Ruben Sepulveda who is serving ten years for a federal drug conspiracy points out another flaw in Trump's plans to deport all the immigrants who have come to the US illegally: He says he has "literally dozens" of family members who broke the law by crossing the border, and all have the documents that they need to stay here.
"I know people won't want to hear this, but all of them vote with their fake IDs, all of them collect income tax with their fake IDs, and all of them pay taxes—under aliases."
Sepulveda adds that he can't stand Donald Trump, but admits that his family members are fascinated by him.
"When I call or they email, they are all excited about Trump," he says. "And I tell them, 'Don't you know that Trump thinks you all are nothing but a bunch of wetbacks—don't you know that he wants to put you in prison forever?' They just think it's funny, and they believe that Obama is going to see to it that they will never get deported and that if Trump's elected, he will make their lives better. They all just want better lives."
When asked about Trump's comments suggesting most or even all Mexican immigrants are criminals, Sepulveda admits that he knows of cases where women have been raped coming into the United States illegally, and also says that many illegal immigrants are involved into the drug trade.
"But during prohibition, it was the Italians who were running liquor illegally," Sepulveda said. "And many Italians were involved in numbers running because they knew people in the Mafia. Well, it's the same today with Mexicans, and we are associated with crime because a lot of our people in Mexico are.
"But let me get something straight," he continues. "A wall isn't going to change anything, new mandatory minimums for illegal migrants will only fill up these prisons and Americans can't afford to keep it up. So everyone might as well just take a deep breath, enjoy the Donald Trump show, but realize all 30 million illegals—yes, I said 30 million, because I think there is way more that 11 million—are here to stay. Our people run the border, they are ICE [Immigrations and Customs Enforcement], we are becoming the law, and it's only matter of time before we take over Congress.
"Just get over it, people," Sepulveda says. "It's going to be OK."
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