The Minnesota Hispanic Republican Assembly, one of the affiliates of the state party, has a new chair, Chanhassen businessman Frank Mendez. Although the group has played a limited role in the party’s decisions, it carries greater clout this election cycle as immigration issues have dominated the debate among candidates for the GOP nomination for president.
In an interview with MinnPost, Mendez defended the party’s arguments for border security, which he says many Hispanics support. But he also said when it comes to improving relations with Hispanic voters, Republican leaders need to break down the barriers to a voting bloc of people “who don’t look like them.”
MinnPost: Why did you decide to take on the role of chair of the Hispanic Assembly?
Frank Mendez: I saw that the Hispanic community was basically being pursued by the Democratic Party. I decided to reach out. I thought, I’m Hispanic. I need to get involved in helping the Hispanic community be aware of Republican goals and dreams and values. And the best way to do that was to join an organization that declares itself in support, like the Republican Hispanic Assembly.
MP: You are giving a talk next week to the Minnesota Senior Federation titled, “What Hispanics really think about border security, sanctuary cities and Donald Trump.” Are you suggesting there is no consensus on these issues?
FM: I’m suggesting that the Hispanic community is in flux with respect to some of these issues. The flux is among mostly among non-citizens that we have here and we have to be sensitive towards any immigrants who are here. At the same time, we have our rules and regulations as to what citizenship is and what procedures we should take. The Hispanic voting community is totally in support of strong border security and not having sanctuary cities.
MP: Why is border security so important to you?
FM: A border is a border regardless of what nationality it is. There are rules that allow your entrance into whatever country you want to go into. It’s actually a back door invitation for people to not comply with them if you are not going to enforce them. The issue is homeland security. Those that are here and have become U.S. citizens understand. They are no longer Salvadorans, no longer Mexican. They are Americans.
MP: What about Donald Trump’s remarks about Mexicans?
FM: I truly believe that he misspoke. He doesn’t script what he has to say and he says what’s on his mind. I’m not a mind reader but I can look at his history to say … you need to clarify that statement. I think he has to be more careful about dealing with issues and the problems that stem from those issues instead of directly picking on individuals and people. I would not say anything negative about him because that would then be taking it to a personal level and that’s the mistake he made when he started talking about the border issues.
MP: Do you support the path to citizenship proposals that would allow illegal immigrants already in the U.S. to attain citizenship?
FM: That’s after the fact, that’s after securing the border. The issue for me is border security. After that has been done, then it’s fruitful to go on to step two and three. But it’s difficult to move on that [path to citizenship] quickly because you are dealing with people who are already here.
MP: How are you going to try to make the Minnesota Republican Hispanic Assembly more politically potent?
FM: The key here is for the Republicans to identify with the Hispanics as just another group of people who don’t look like them but have the same heart, desires, spirits, and dreams. It’s a matter of getting people to reach out. We need some who is not Hispanic to open the door and say, come on in. That’s the key. My goal is to get one more Hispanic Republican voter in every precinct in the state. That could have the effect of changing some elections.
MinnPost: Has the Republican Party — in Minnesota and nationally — done enough to reach out?
FM: I think they’re beginning to understand they need to do it more. The bottom line is we need to have more people educating the Republican Party to things that they can do and to promote the Republican brand.