When Donald Trump visits the U.S.-Mexico border Thursday, he will be a guest in the most Latino city in America, where more than 91 percent of residents speak a language other than English at home. In other words, he is not likely to be welcomed with open arms.
Trump, who has been on defense among Latinos after he called many illegal Mexican border-crossers rapists and criminals, plans to tour the city of nearly 250,000, which is about 96% Hispanic, to talk about his plans for border security. Rep. Henry Cuellar, the Democratic congressman who was born in Laredo, says the bombastic GOP presidential candidate could hardly have chosen a worse city.
“Laredo is a special place,” Cuellar told TIME. “He’s going to see that the congressman from that area—that’s me—his parents were born in Mexico and became naturalized citizens. There are two Hispanic federal judges there, one of then born in Mexico. He’s going to see the border sheriff there, my brother, is Hispanic. Many of the CBP officers and law enforcement he’s meeting—a lot of them are Hispanics or of Mexican descent.”
A recent poll by Univision found that 79% of American Latino’s found Trump’s comments about border crossers offensive. Cuellar pointed to federal crime statistics rebutting Trump’s claims that the border area is less safe than the rest of the country.
“When he talks about violence, Laredo had 3 murders per 100,000 [in 2013], as opposed to Washington, D.C., where he wants to have a new job, where it’s 16 per 100,000. If you compare that to New York, where he lives, I can bet that Laredo is a lot safer.”
In fact, the FBI’s listing top ten cities with the highest murder rate do not include a single city on the U.S.-Mexico border.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” Trump said in his announcement speech. “They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Cuellar said that despite the rhetoric, the people of his city will still be respectful of the reality television star and real estate magnate.
“He’s going to see that Laredo’s a welcoming city,” Cuellar told TIME. “No matter how extreme the positions are, they are going to treat him with respect. They are not going to agree with him at all, but they’ll be respectful.”
“If he said we had to work on border security, a lot of people, including myself, would have agreed with him,” Cuellar continued. “But those words are very strong words and we are just offended by that type of language.”
Trump’s trip is off to a rocky start even before his plane touches down. Trump planned to meet with the National Border Patrol Council Local 2455 Executive Board at the Laredo airport, before meeting with law enforcement after touring the border.
In a statement, the union said it was backing out of all Trump events.
“After careful consideration of all the factors involved in this event and communicating with members of the National Border Patrol Council (NBPC) at the National level, it has been decided by Local 2455 to pull out of all events involving Donald Trump,” the statement said.
Trump responded in a statement blasting the union, claiming they were silenced by superiors.
“Despite the great danger, Mr. Trump is traveling to Laredo, TX to proceed with the visit to the border,” he said in a statement. “It is unfortunate the local union of Border Patrol Agents received pressure at a national level not to participate and ultimately pulled out of today’s event. They are being silenced, and are very unhappy about it, as told directly to Mr. Trump. It can only be assumed that there are things the politicians in Washington do not want Americans to see or discuss. It shows that we are not even safe in our own country.”
Cuellar said he encourages candidates to visit Laredo and the border, adding that Hillary Clinton, whom he is a “strong support of” visited twice during her 2008 run. “The border is about more than just more border security, it’s about commerce, about a dynamic place,” he said, saying candidates should visit to see that. “If you want to talk about violence, it’s a lot safer along the border than in other places.”
“He’s a smart man. He’s a smart guy. He knows what words are going to bring reaction,” Cuellar said. “I don’t know if in his heart he really believes what he says, but he’s using words to get reaction in a Republican primary.”
Cuellar scoffed at Trump’s assertion that he would win over the Latino vote in the general election.
“Somebody who uses words like Trump,” he said, “will not win a general election.”