If you’re wondering what bombastic Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, after days of waffling and wavering, intends to do about some 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, imagine the plight of Waco’s Rev. Ramiro Peña. He’s confused too. And he’s one of those advising Trump on immigration policy.
Maybe the graying pastor will find out in the 64 days left before the election. Maybe he’ll find out, too, who leaked or hacked his email, originally sent to Republican and Trump campaign officials, condemning Trump’s combative speech on immigration Wednesday night in Phoenix.
“I am so sorry, but I believe Mr. Trump lost the election tonight,” the disillusioned pastor said in the email. “The ‘National Hispanic Advisory Council’ [advising Trump] seems to be simply for optics and I do not have the time or energy for a scam.”
Next day, Peña says, he awoke to find his private email quoted in major publications nationwide reporting wildly mixed reactions to Trump’s speech. Also chronicled: the exodus of Hispanic leaders and immigration reformers who had supported Trump. Stories suggested that Peña also was dumping Trump and his campaign.
Some acquainted with Peña, founder and pastor of Christ the King Baptist Church of Waco, might be surprised to find him involved with Trump’s campaign. Peña not only has deep empathy with immigrants in the United States but also an understanding of the wheels they turn in our economy. Many of them replace our roofs, build our houses, manicure our lawns, bus our tables and clean our hotel rooms.
So why is Peña working with a nominee whose immigration policy from Day One emphasizes deporting these very immigrants and building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border?
“I have been highly criticized by people I love and are close to me for agreeing to be an adviser to Donald Trump,” Peña told me. “I have taken a lot of criticism for that. But my response is to point to the multiple examples in the Bible where God’s person is an adviser to someone who is not God’s person. All you have to do is read the short book of Daniel. Daniel served, advised and counseled multiple pagan kings. I’m not calling Donald Trump a pagan king. But God uses Daniel to be an adviser to multiple people who are not walking with God — and, again, I’m not saying Trump is not walking with God. What I’m saying is here is a difficult situation and I have a choice: I can walk away and stay pristine, separate, untouchable — stay in that ivory tower — or I can mix it up when I’m asked to be an adviser in a challenging campaign.”
Peña says that he has long pressed Republican Congressman Bill Flores on immigration policy. Peña, who delivered a prayer at the Republican National Convention in July, says it isn’t hard to figure out how he wound up on Trump’s advisory council: Peña’s television ministry reaches millions. Still, he and other advisory council members were impressed when meeting with Trump in New York just a few weeks ago.
“We had a great exchange of ideas,” Peña said. “There were only 15 of us in the room with Mr. Trump. He was thoughtful, he took notes, he was a good listener — he just did exceptionally well. We had some high expectations coming out of that.”
So what happened to expectations for Trump’s Phoenix speech, which campaign officials promised would clarify his shifting approach to illegal immigrants? They reportedly became collateral damage after Trump’s otherwise successful meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto earlier in the day was undone by a subsequent tweet from Peña Nieto. An incensed Trump angrily inserted his outrage into the Phoenix speech.
Peña has agreed to stay on the Trump advisory council. Ever the optimist, he believes Trump may still modify his confusing immigration policy. While Peña agrees on stronger border security — whether through a physical or virtual wall — he draws the line at mass deportation, something even conservative groups see as unrealistic and cost-prohibitive. And that’s not all.
“To destroy families, to take grandparents away from parents or children, some of whom are now Americans and in many cases don’t even speak Spanish — they’re Americans, they don’t know Mexico or Honduras or Guatemala or wherever [they or their families] came from — that is just immoral in my view,” he said. “And I feel strongly about it and I have for a very long time. That’s the advice I’ll give to anybody who asks.”