For years, conservatives in North Carolina say they’ve heard only lip service from politicians about cracking down on illegal immigration and vetting refugees – issues that bring together their concerns about national security, cultural shifts and federal spending.
It wasn’t until President Donald Trump’s promise to put “America First” that Republicans like Donna Williams in Raleigh felt truly understood.
“Donald Trump brought this to the front page and it has stayed there,” said Williams, 62, an independent beauty-products sales representative.
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Williams has served as a delegate to the national GOP convention and worked long days as a volunteer in 2016 with the Wake County Republican Party. But she says her views on immigration are influenced primarily by her role as a grandmother of seven. She worries an influx of Muslim refugees could change the city of Raleigh, specifically concerning cultural differences in the way women are treated.
Around North Carolina this week, McClatchy interviewed conservative Trump supporters and found two of the president’s biggest campaign pledges – building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and freezing the flow of refugees from some Muslim-majority countries – win high praise from his base.
For weeks, anti-Trump protesters have organized in North Carolina against the president’s policies, including his executive order on immigration and refugees.
Now, hundreds of Trump supporters are expected to gather in Raleigh next weekend for a pro-Trump rally.
84% of Republicans say Trump is making changes for the better, in a new McClatchy-Marist poll
National security officials have said screening procedures have improved in recent years and there have been no terrorist attacks in the U.S. committed by refugees. But officials like FBI Director James Comey and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper have acknowledged their agencies have difficulty fully vetting immigrants from war-torn countries like Syria. Refugees go through a screening process that normally takes 18 to 24 months.
Trump’s executive order to indefinitely bar refugees from Syria and all others from entering the U.S. for four months drew immediate court challenges. The president’s order would halt other forms of immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries for three months. White House and Homeland Security officials say Trump now plans to issue a new immigration and refugee order which would clarify legal U.S. green card holders are allowed to travel to and from the country.
Refugee advocacy groups have pushed back on security concerns, saying nearly half of the refugees admitted are children and individuals and families undergo rigorous background checks.
Some conservatives say they’ve worried for years that immigrants in the country illegally and refugees strain government budgets, and they’re afraid large numbers of immigrants will change their communities. Trump’s campaigning – during which he sometimes invoked fear of Sharia, Islamic law, in the United States – spoke directly to some voters’ cultural and religious concerns.
Advocates who work with refugees say most immigrant families take English language classes, put their children in public schools and find employment within months of arriving.
For many Trump supporters, including Williams, national security is their top issue. Trump’s efforts to speed up deportations and his executive order ceasing refugee admissions until new screening processes are in place are common sense, she said.
“That doesn’t say we’re racist. That says we’re cautious,” Williams said.
Trump’s refugee and immigration policies have served as one of the most divisive issues so far in his young presidency in North Carolina, where Trump won 49.8 percent of the vote to 46.2 percent for Hillary Clinton.
In metro areas, anti-Trump activists protested the refugee executive order at the state’s two largest airports in Raleigh and Charlotte. Other pro-refugee and immigrant demonstrations have become regular occurrences.
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein joined officials from 15 other states earlier this month in challenging the immigration policy change in court and criticizing Trump’s order, calling it a “ban.”
“It signals to the world that America sees all Muslims as terrorists, strengthening ISIS’s propaganda and efforts to recruit terrorists,” Stein said in a statement. “Not only is Trump doing immeasurable damage to our country’s standing, he’s doing it in a way that is unconstitutional.”
Next weekend, Trump supporters will respond with a rally of their own. On Saturday, March 4, Raleigh will be part of a nationally-organized event billed as an answer to the “seditious fringe ... resolved to sabotage” Trump’s plans.
The noon pro-Trump march will be held at Halifax Mall near the Legislative Building in downtown Raleigh. At the same time, at least 45 other local marches – including ones in Washington, D.C., New York City and Miami – will take place.
The events will be held just days after Trump’s first major speech to Congress and the nation since his inauguration.
In a month in office, Trump has proved to be hugely popular among Republicans and unpopular to other voters. A McClatchy-Marist poll found 78 percent of Republicans are proud of the president and 84 percent said he’s making changes for the better. But 90 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of independents say they are embarrassed by the president.
Every day that (Trump) keeps another promise is a day he engenders more of my trust.
A.P. Dillon, Trump voter in Cary, N.C.
In North Carolina, Trump voters say they’re happy he’s been making good on his campaign promises.
Every Sunday afternoon for the past month, A.P. Dillon, a 45-year-old writer and mom in Raleigh’s suburbs, has given her two sons activities to stay busy while she heads for her computer with a spreadsheet that tracks Trump’s executive orders and actions. Dillon runs a news blog called American Lens and has contributed posts about North Carolina politics to Breitbart, an ultra-conservative news site.
“He’s doing what he said he was going to do,” said Dillon, who voted for Trump. “He’s not like anyone we’ve ever seen before.”
On Tuesday night, when Trump addresses a joint session of Congress, Dillon will be looking for the president to show America “what’s around the bend” and preview the rest of his first year in office.
“What I don’t want to hear are a lot of platitudes,” she said. Instead, she’s hoping Trump will try to show more of how he’ll govern, perhaps focusing on an issue like education, where he could build consensus among Democrats and people who didn’t vote for him.
Trump’s unique style, and his status as a political outsider, won him fans during the 2016 campaign, and they’re sticking with him.
It took an atypical presidential candidate to convince Betty Gregory in Charlotte – a past supporter of President Barack Obama – to vote Republican in 2016. Gregory, a retiree, voted for Trump after she became disillusioned by rising health-care premiums under Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Still, it stung earlier this month when she said Trump seemed to know little about abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
Gregory, who is African-American, said she was disappointed “that he doesn’t have enough African-Americans on his staff, and I voted for him, and I was disappointed that he didn’t have a clue who Frederick Douglass was. He needs to get information about all of the communities he’s serving.”
Trump won about 8 percent of the African-American vote in 2016, exit polling showed. He performed slightly better among African-American voters than 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who earned about 6 percent.
But she’s still behind Trump. “He’s doing what he said he would do. We just need to make sure that he doesn’t leave anybody out,” she said.
Some do want a bit of change. In Charlotte, Lorena Castillo-Ritz recommended Trump think about using his “inside voice.” Others said they’d like to see less stream-of-consciousness-style tweeting from the president.
Castillo-Ritz, whose family immigrated legally from El Salvador in the 1950s, praised Trump’s plans on illegal immigration but hopes he’ll stop short of trying to deport the estimated nearly 11 million people living in the United States illegally.
“My father came to this country and joined the Army,” she said. “They were vetted, they went through physicals, they made sure they weren’t bringing TB into the country. My father went into the Korean War. My mother came and she went to school and assimilated into the culture.”
William Douglas of McClatchy contributed.