Donald Trump
The Latino advocacy leaders urged Biden and voters alike to focus on the facts rather than help continue pushing Trump's rhetoric on immigration AFP

The first presidential debate of the 2024 general election season brought much anxiety to some Democrats, who got to see a frail and shaky Biden going head to head against presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump. But despite the former president's energy, immigration advocates are pushing back against his rhetoric claiming his messages puts Latinos in the U.S. at risk.

A group of Latino rights advocates, several from some of the biggest organizations in the country like mi Familia Vota, America's Voice and Voto Latino, released a joint statement debunking some of Trump's claims regarding immigration.

One of Trump's claims along the debate, as well as the campaign trail, is that undocumented migrants from jails and mental institutions are being "dumped" from foreign countries into the U.S. and they subsequently continue committing crimes in the country. Several studies however have shown these claims to be baseless and even untrue.

"Using the heinous acts of an individual to tar entire communities of immigrants and people of color is as old as American politics itself," the statement read. "It is a cynical effort to exploit tragedy to invoke fear and sow division, and it is irresponsible and endangers American lives."

At the same time, the 16 Latino advocacy organizations that signed the statement believed that Biden missed an opportunity to fact-check Trump and provide appropriate context to the immigration issue, and to steer away from the "dehumanizing rhetoric that falsely depicts immigrants as inherent threats."

The organizations said this message can have real life consequences, listing a series of crimes targeted to minorities like the 2018 shooting of a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 dead, the 2019 shooting in El Paso, Texas, at a Walmart that left 23 dead and the 2022 shooting of a grocery store at Buffalo, New York that left 10 dead.

Other Latino advocacy organizations have also weighed in on the issue, taking similar stances when it comes to the alleged relationship between immigration and crime.

Nayna Gupta, policy director of the National Immigrant Justice Center, said it was problematic when the focus of the debate was about individual criminal acts involving migrants "in a way to suggest that immigrant communities overall are somehow dangerous."

Similarly, Clarissa Martinez, vice president of the Latino vote initiative at UnidosUS, said the president missed another good opportunity to "focus on the balanced approach that Latinos want to see" when it comes to immigration issues.

Biden did not bring up his administration's most recent immigration actions, including a sweeping executive order that bars immigrants who cross the border unlawfully from receiving asylum and expanding protections to undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens.

Stephen Nuño, a political scientist at Northern Arizona University told NBC News that Biden and Democrats have struggled to pierce through Trump's immigration rhetoric, which was demonstrated in the debate.

"What's a reasonable rebuttal to something that is not a lie, but crazy?... other than saying, 'that's not true,'" Nuño said.

Because of this, the Latino advocacy organizations encouraged the Biden campaign and voters in general to focus on the facts.

"The facts are that since the last president left office, violent crime is down substantially across the country and that immigrants are associated with reductions in crime in American communities coast to coast," the statement read.

"Indeed, we would be making much more progress towards further reducing crime, making guns less widely available, and reforming our immigration system if politicians from both parties were working together rather than having one party constantly trying to divide us, making solutions more difficult to achieve," the 16 organizations concluded.

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