Advocates for young immigrants lacking legal status in the U.S. are calling on the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to cancel a planned candidate forum with GOP frontrunner Donald Trump.
United We Dream launched a petition Friday demanding the chamber “remove” Trump from the Oct. 8 forum, a one-on-one question and answer session with USHCC President and CEO Javier Palomarez.
In its petition, posted on the group’s website, United We Dream states that it is “a slap in the face” for the chamber to provide Trump “with a platform to legitimize his candidacy and hateful rhetoric against Latinos and immigrants.”
The USHCC has held similar forums with several other candidates individually and plans more, including an Oct. 6 forum with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, also seeking the GOP nomination.
“Trump … He’s no ordinary candidate. He has been promoting hatred against Latinos and immigrants. He has been promoting racist rhetoric,” said Cristina Jimenez, co-manager of United We Dream.
“This is not a media show. For us, this is something very personal. Trump says he wants to deport all Mexicans and immigrants and Latinos … He’s talking about my family,” Jimenez said.
The petition had collected 1,925 signatures by Friday afternoon. The group’s goal is 3,200.
Palomarez said Friday the chamber had no plans to cancel the forum and emphasized that the chamber does not support or agree with Trump or with his views.
“We’re sorry some members of the community don’t agree with us,” Palomarez said. “There is always room for rethinking, for recalibration, for negotiation. But none of that exists unless you have communication.”
The chamber, which is an advocate for immigration reform with a path to citizenship for those not legally in the U.S., has said Trump’s comments on Latinos and immigrants are deplorable and inaccurate, he said.
The chamber is not the first ally on immigration that young immigrant advocates have opposed or confronted. President Barack Obama and his deportation policies were a target at one time, along with Latino congressional members and other established Latino groups.
Trump, the front-runner among candidates for the GOP presidential nomination, has angered many Latinos, immigrants and their allies since he first declared he was running. Some have labeled his remarks as racist or bigoted or as racial coding.
When he announced, Trump accused Mexico of sending people who were not like people at his rally, but were rapists, criminals and drug couriers, people whom he said had lots of problems and were bringing those problems.
The comments led several businesses, including NBC, to sever ties with Trump. On Friday, Trump announced that he had purchased NBC’s half of the Miss Universe Organization and settled all lawsuits against it.
Palomarez said the Hispanic chamber also has refused to do business with Trump and canceled plans to look at Trump properties in Florida and Washington, D.C., that it was considering for next year’s convention.
But he said the job of the nonpartisan chamber is to “bring any presidential candidate to the table so they can explain their policies on a wide array of issues.”
“I’m disappointed we are being denounced for choosing dialogue and reason … You can’t change minds until you have open communication,” Palomarez said.
Michael Cohen, a top adviser to Trump, said it is the media who has “sought to flame a controversy between Trump and the Hispanic community,” which he said has led to an inaccurate portrayal of Trump’s remarks.
“Despite the backlash, Mr. Trump has gone to great lengths to demonstrate his affection and admiration for the Hispanic community, their culture and their work ethic,” Cohen said.
He said Trump remains committed to working with Palomarez and the USHCC “to ensure the Hispanic community is granted the dignity and opportunity to chase their version of the American dream and to help make America great again.”
He denied that Trump was backpedaling or softening his rhetoric to improve his numbers with Hispanics.
Read more at NBCNews.com.