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ALAMO, RGV – The RGV Equal Voice Network believes Donald Trump’s harsh rhetoric about Mexico and undocumented immigrants will help boost their voter registration and get out the vote efforts.

The group also believes DPS’s heavy presence in the western half of Hidalgo County and Starr County will increase the number of legal residents seeking citizenship, which is a prerequisite to voting.

Negative references to Trump and DPS were evident at a news conference Equal Voice held in Alamo on National Day of Voter Registration. At the conference affiliates to Equal Voice encouraged greater voter registration and civic engagement in the run-up to the November elections.

“At this time, when we are coming under such a strong attack, the way we return that is by being together. We know there is a lot of anger about Trump. We need to transform that anger into action at the polls,” said Martha Sanchez, a community organizer with La Unión del Pueblo Entero.

“People feel so afraid with what they are hearing on the news, with candidates like Trump who say so much against Latinos. People are asking, ‘What if he becomes president, what will happen to us?’ There is genuine concern in the community. This is making them motivated to get involved. Some are saying they are finally going to become citizens.”

On the stump, GOP presidential candidate Trump has said he would deport all undocumented immigrants and build a border wall from San Diego to Brownsville. The billionaire real estate developer and current GOP front runner told CNN in July that as president he would deport all undocumented immigrants and then allow the “good ones” to reenter the country through an “expedited process” and live in the U.S. legally, though not as citizens.

As for DPS, the state agency is raising its profile in the Valley following a decision by the legislature to pump $800 million into border security. LUPE’s Sanchez said DPS’s presence between La Joya and Rio Grande City had reached “absurd proportions,” with five DPS trooper vehicles every mile along U.S. 83.

“From La Joya to Rio Grande City there are a whole bunch of DPS troopers. People feel they are in captivity. They say there are five DPS vehicles every mile. It is overkill. Residents feel oppressed. They tell us they are afraid to go out to the stores, out to the parks,” Sanchez told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“When you throw in Trump and the fact that mothers cannot get birth certificates for their babies, it seems we are being attacked from all sides. These are attacks on Mexican-Americans, on Latino communities. We are getting calls from people saying, ‘If we become citizens we will be more protected.’ Many people in the Valley have been legal residents for many years. Now, they are deciding to become citizens.”

Sanchez said LUPE will be holding a news conference in La Joya today to voice opposition to the “heavy presence” of DPS troopers in western Hidalgo County and Starr County. She said a bigger event will be held later in the year in Starr County, in partnership with local elected officials.

“We do not believe the $800 million for border security was money well spent. There are so many needs, especially in the Valley. We are spending money on border security without accountability or transparency. It is ridiculous.”

The news conference in Alamo was held at the Hidalgo County Precinct 2 Multipurpose Center. Many of the community leaders at the conference also attended a congressional event hosted by U.S. Reps. Rubén Hinojosa and Filemon Vela at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance last Saturday. At the congressional event, U.S. Rep. Norma Torres of California pointed out that immigrant communities have far more political clout in California than they do in Texas, even though Texas has a higher percentage of Latinos. The reason, she said, is that voter participation among Latinos is greater in California.

Asked at the Alamo event to comment on this, LUPE’s John-Michael Torres said: “In California, the anti-immigrant propositions of the 1990s solidified the participation of the Latino in the civic process. We are beginning to see that here. We are already seeing that because of the increase of DPS state troopers in the Starr County area. We are getting more calls from people interested in becoming citizens; so they do not get stopped and potentially criminalized and lose their eligibility to become citizens. And as with Donald Trump’s rhetoric, as the attacks become stronger we will see our communities defend themselves.”

Ramona Casas, a community organizer with ARISE (A Resource in Service Equality), told the Rio Grande Guardian that the Equal Voice Network and other community groups still have a lot of work to do to get voter participation up to satisfactory levels. She pointed out that at the last major election, only 24 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in the Valley.

“We do our Mi Voto, Mi Voz campaign every election cycle and we ask people why they do not vote. There are many reasons. Some have resistance to the process and others do not know what to do. They do not have the information they need. They do not know about the different precincts. They don’t know about all the grants that flow to us if we make our voices heard,” Casas said.

“We want all Latino communities to be at the forefront for voting. If we want to have change in our country we need to vote. We need to elect candidates that will listen to the needs of our communities and our families. We need to be informed about the elections, who is running, what they stand for and then exercise our rights. Our forefathers fought hard to get us this right.”

Another group pushing for greater voter participation in the Valley is AACT, the Advocacy Alliance Center of Texas. Earlier this month, AACT held a news conference at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance to promote Valley Voter Awareness Month.

“We feel that there is much more potential for our communities’ residents to exercise their civic rights and responsibilities. In order to counter low voter turnout trends, it is critical to provide resources that will help remove the barriers to voting in our communities,” said AACT’s Albert Morales.

“AACT educates the youth about the importance of voting, makes presentations to motivate people in the workforce, provides information regarding voting and elections to people that may not necessarily have access to it, and eliminates the cost of registering to vote by providing people with convenient means of getting registered.”