Donald Trump was received with Mexican flags, mariachi bands and loads of anger when he visited the New York town of Patchogue on Thursday evening, a town still reeling from a vicious hate-crime stabbing that left an Ecuadorean immigrant dead eight years ago.
Hundreds of activists held protests leading up to and during the presidential candidate’s appearance at a fundraising gala at a Long Island nightclub — barely 200 yards from where in 2008 Marcelo Lucero was confronted by a gang of teens who admitted targeted Hispanic immigrants on a regular basis.
Before Trump took the stage, several hundred people attended a vigil for Lucero holding signs with messages such as "Hate is not welcome in Patchogue" and "Make America Love Again."
"I am against Trump for the racist, homophobic and insulting terms he has used against the Mexican community," said Israel Galindo, a 66-year-old Mexican. "He promotes violence."
Trump made no mention Lucero or the protesters during his 20-minute speech. Speaking about his plan to build a build a massive wall along the border, Trump told his supporters: "I have great relationships with Mexico and Hispanic people."
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John Jay LaValle, chairman of the Suffolk County Republican Committee, said Thursday's event was scheduled more than two months ago and he invited every Republican candidate. He said Trump, who was recently endorsed by the county GOP, accepted only last week.
"While we offer the greatest empathy possible to the family of Marcelo Lucero," LaValle said, "we can't help but to be suspicious of the motives of those leading the charge to connect that vicious hate crime with Mr. Trump's commitment to enforcement of immigration laws that have gone largely ignored by both parties for 30 years."
At the time of Lucero's slaying, police acknowledged there had been a tense atmosphere in the town of nearly 12,000, including attacks on immigrant day laborers, but they say tensions have noticeably subsided. Last month, the top prize in the town's annual St. Patrick's Day parade went to a group of Ecuadorean step dancers.
Still, the candidate’s strong rhetoric against illegal immigration touches a very deep nerve in this community.
"He talks about separating families", Felix Diaz, 47, an emigrant from El Salvador who owns his own landscaping business, said. "I have two kids who are here undocumented, but I am not speaking for them only. I am speaking for the whole Latino community. Even if someone would pay me to go, I would never go and listen to him."
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.