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Latino Group Wants To Hear Trump Speak About Immigration Policies

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We're asking a variety of people this morning what they're anticipating from President Trump tonight. He is giving his first address to a joint session of Congress. Maria Teresa Kumar is in our studio. She founded and heads Voto Latino, a group that works to engage Latinos in the political process. Good morning.

MARIA TERESA KUMAR: Good morning, David. Thank you for having me.

GREENE: Well, thanks for coming in. What are you expecting to hear - what are you hoping to hear from President Trump tonight?

KUMAR: Well, I'm hoping that he'll turn down the temperature of what's happening in this country when it comes to conversations around race and the real reaction that communities are suffering.

GREENE: Turn down the temperature, what do you mean?

KUMAR: He has created a space where people feel that they can all of a sudden be not nice to their neighbors. And I'm trying to be as diplomatic as possible. But since his election, we have seen an increase in hate crimes around the country, whether it's with - against Muslim Americans, American Latinos. More recently you heard of what happened with two American Indian men who were shot by someone that was claiming that perhaps they were Muslim.

GREENE: I know that - that was an incredibly sad story. In terms of the numbers, hate crimes - and these are studies that you've seen?

KUMAR: Yes, so if you actually look at the Southern Poverty Law Center, they have actually seen a huge spike in these hate crimes ever since - well, it started when he started his campaign but they spiked since the election. And we are hearing even from teachers saying we don't know how to have these conversations around our - with our students because of the extremeness that they are experiencing as a result of this election.

The Southern Poverty Law Center put together a page called tolerance.org where teachers now have study guides not on civic education but how to have acceptance within different communities of color.

GREENE: What exactly are you hoping that President Trump might do or say that would turn down the temperature, as you put it?

KUMAR: He has to denounce the hate crimes that are happening. And he has to denounce that this is anti-American, this is not who we are, that we are not only a nation of immigrants but we thrive with a nation of immigrants and diversity. And he has to say that in a way that doesn't seem flippant and that is sincere and that acknowledges the consternation that communities are feeling right now.

GREENE: Do you think he could deliver that message and remain consistent with his policy that has gotten a lot of support from many voters in the country to get tougher on immigration, to go after people who are in this country illegally, especially those who've committed crimes? Can he do both things?

KUMAR: There is a way that you could have people enforce immigration policy that is humane, that goes after the true criminals, as he claimed that he wanted to do, and that doesn't take - as people are saying, that doesn't take the shackles off of ICE. When you look at the majority of Americans, close to 71 percent of Americans actually don't believe that we should be rounding up 11 million people that aren't documented. What the president right now does though is that he feeds red meat to his most extreme base and works off of headlines instead of actually saying, look, we are, again, a nation of immigrants.

We have to be compassionate in our law enforcement and be strategic. The idea of rounding up a mother that's been here for 22 years, has two American children and deporting her in the middle of the night without her lawyer having to have conversations with her, that is not who we are.

GREENE: All right, Maria Teresa Kumar heads Voto Latino, a political advocacy organization for Latinos. Thanks so much for coming in this morning.

KUMAR: Thank you, Dave. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.