Arizona Latino Trump supporters hold fast

PHOENIX – Jose Gonzalez doesn’t wear a “Make America Great Again” hat, or have Donald Trump bumper stickers on his truck. He’s not planning to attend the Republican presidential candidate’s rally in Phoenix on Wednesday, and as an evangelical Christian pastor he said he doesn’t share his political views from the pulpit.

But Gonzalez is a Latino voter who is leaning toward Donald Trump.

Gonzalez, 56, is a Mexican immigrant. He said he has been an American citizen for more than 20 years. He preaches for a Victory Outreach International evangelical church in west Phoenix.

The pastor said he’s definitely not on board with Trump’s early proclamation that he’d deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, the majority of whom Gonzalez calls “good people” who work hard, pay taxes and raise children who love and respect the United States.

And he didn’t like it when Trump once said the Mexican government sends criminals across the border. That, said Gonzalez, “was one of the biggest, stupid things that he (Trump) said.”

He suggested perhaps Trump didn’t mean it.

But Gonzalez is pleased that Trump seems to be softening his immigration stance, and said Trump is more “open-minded” about Christian values than Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, whose pro-abortion rights and pro-gay marriage stances go against his religious beliefs.

“I know that he’s kind of crazy,” Gonzalez said of Trump. “I know that he says many stupid things, but he’s got at least an open mind to support the evangelicals.”

Gonzalez said he isn’t thrilled with the two candidates, but said he views Trump as “bad” and Clinton as “worse.”

“To be frank with you, none of them seem to be a very good candidate,” Gonzalez said.

“I am a Hispanic, but before being a Hispanic I’m a pastor,” Gonzalez said. “I want the best for the Hispanic community, but I am more responsible before God than before the Hispanic community.”

Most Latinos support Clinton, the Pew Research Center reported in July. The center found that in a three-way race, 58 percent of Hispanic voters supported Hillary Clinton, compared to 20 percent supporting Trump and 13 percent supporting Gary Johnson, the Libertarian nominee.

Sergio Arellano discusses Republican strategy for recruiting Latino voters at the Arizona GOP headquarters in Phoenix on  Aug. 29, 2016. (Photo by Danielle Quijada/Cronkite News)

Sergio Arellano discusses Republican strategy for recruiting Latino voters at the Arizona GOP headquarters in Phoenix on Aug. 29, 2016. (Photo by Danielle Quijada/Cronkite News)

Sergio Arellano, 32, the strategic initiatives director of the Arizona Republican party, said he focuses on community outreach to recruit Latinos and other minorities to the Republican party. He said he had no data on the number of Hispanics in the Arizona GOP.

He said the Arizona GOP recruits voters in rural Hispanic communities that both parties tend to ignore.

An Army veteran, Arellano said he started working with the Arizona Republican Party four years ago because it shared the conservative values that aligned with his values as a first-generation American Latino.

“This is how the Latino is raised to be,” Arellano said, “…Pro-life, God and country, pro-small business, less taxes…Proud.”

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Like Pastor Gonzalez and Arellano, Gabriella Trisler is a Hispanic Trump supporter.

Trisler, 49, said she is an immigrant from Argentina. The Mohave County resident said she supports Trump’s hardline immigration views.

She said Trump is “very honest.”

Transitioning from a law-abiding immigrant to American citizen was a lot of hard work, she said, but “if I can do it, everyone can do it.”

She said she views Clinton’s immigration policies as unrealistic, and Clinton as untrustworthy.

Within the Latino community, Trisler said, she often gets called a traitor, and sometimes crazy, for supporting Trump. Still, she said, she agrees with the candidate “100 percent.”

“I am praying to God everyday for Mr. Trump,” Trisler said.