Jeb Bush has made it pretty clear he’s going after the Latino vote. The Republican presidential hopeful kickstarted his bid Monday with the release of a full Spanish-language ad and a rally held at Miami Dade College filled with Spanish music and soundbites en español. But not everyone was buying it.
Before the event even started, a group of local immigration activists from the Young American Dreamers organization where escorted out of the auditorium by police. And halfway into his speech Bush was forced to go off script and briefly address immigration reform when a group of hecklers stood up wearing bright yellow shirts spelling out “LEGAL STATUS IS NOT ENOUGH!”
As the advocates were escorted out amid chants of “Jeb!,” “Viva Jeb!,” “We want Jeb!” and “USA!” Bush took a moment to collect himself, then offered his rebuttal: “Just so that our friends know, the next president of the United States will pass meaningful immigration reform so that that will be solved — not by executive order!”
The candidate then switched to a happier immigration story — the one of how he met his Mexican wife Columba Garnica Gallo.
“In 1971, eight years before then candidate Ronald Reagan said that we should stop thinking of our neighbors as foreigners, I was ahead of my time in cross-border outreach,” Bush said with a smile. The former governor of Florida then offered a few phrases in a solid Spanish accent. “Work with us for the values we share,” he said in Spanish. Juntense! –come together– he shouted at the crowd.
“I was one of the persons who was booted,” said Natalia Jaramillo, a spokesperson for the pro-immigration organization Florida Immigrant Coalition who was escorted out before the event commenced.
“He’s supported immigrants on several occasions but lately he’s trying to attract a conservative crowd,” Jaramillo told Fusion.“This morning seven children and several campesinos that came all the way from Tampa were booted, accused of trying to interrupt the speech.”
Jaramillo says Bush will have to do more than just speak Spanish to win over Latinos. “The community is not going to let them just sweeten our ears; just because they speak to us in our language. We know how to read beyond words and we will be watchful of what candidates do to keep families together.”
Jeb Bush’s presidential bid announcement coincided with the third anniversary of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which grants career and educational opportunities as well as deportation relief to more than 600,000 young undocumented immigrants known as DREAMers.
“We’re here to listen to what Jeb Bush has to say regarding immigration reform,” Daniel Barajas, executive director of Young American Dreamers, told Fusion before being escorted out of the rally. “He’s [Bush] taking away the executive decisions of President Obama without offering us an alternative. He understands what having an immigrant family is but what he doesn’t understand is what our people have suffered.”
“Don’t claim to be Latino, don’t claim to be tied in with Latinos when you’re going to be treating us like this behind closed doors,” Barajas complained as he regrouped with immigration advocates in the Miami Dade College parking lot.
Once the rally concluded with a standing ovation, supporters and attendees gathered outside to mingle and enjoy more Latino music.
Roger Vallejos, a U.S. citizen born in Nicaragua, said he doesn’t think Bush will take home the Latino vote. “I love how he speaks Spanish; he’s a good speaker. As a Latino I would want him to speak Spanish in the White House, but it won’t do good if he’s not serving the community that needs him —11 million immigrants who need a solution.”
Others believe Bush is successfully attracting minorities to his campaign.
“I don’t speak Spanish, but I’ve heard him and he seems good,” said Ana Jacobson, a Bush supporter and retiree selling shirts at the rally. She doesn’t think language should be the issue. “I think everyone has to look at what he can do for our country. I think that’s more important than what your nationality or race is. I think we need to find somebody who’s strong and can make us strong again because we’re having a little bit of a problem with what’s in the office right now.”
“I thought it was amazing how he was able to break out in Spanish so easily,” said Mary, an FIU student and Bush supporter. “I think it really represents the blending of cultures.”
“I’m very excited about Jeb running,” adds Gaby, a sophomore at FIU. “He’s a representation of the people and we haven’t seen that in Republican candidates in the past… I’m really excited to see how he’s going to reach out to minorities by speaking Spanish and incorporating culture.”
“At any candidacy, whether you’re Republican or Democrat, things like that or going to happen because people want to be heard,” she said referencing the immigration protesters.
“I felt that he dealt with that very well,” Mary added. “His approach was very respectful and he just kept on going. This is a free country so it was good that they were able to express themselves.”