Mitt’s conservative values are widely shared here — with the possible exception of his views on immigration.
“The Hispanic vote is becoming powerful in the U.S., and I don’t think Mitt understands the causes of illegal immigration,” said Kelly Romney, another Mexican-born cousin, who lives beside the Mormon temple and whose family raises cattle and chili peppers.
He said Mitt would be wise to eschew the harsh rhetoric against illegal immigrants that is popular among GOP hopefuls, proposing to arrange a meeting for Mitt on the topic with a local Mexican politician and Mormon, Jeffrey Max Jones, who was senator for the state of Chihuahua from 2000 to 2006. Jones lives in the Colonia Dublan home in which Mitt’s father was born.
The family has at least one Democrat, Jeff Romney, who voted for Obama in 2008 and said he “horrified” the town when he showed up a few years ago with a Hillary Rodham Clinton sticker on his car. “Not all Mormons are Republicans,” said Jeff, the fundraising director of the El Paso Museum of Art, cracking a smile. “But I might vote for Mitt.”
As in other circles, there is also some trepidation here about a possible presidential contest dominated by discussions of Mitt’s Mormon beliefs.
“I just hope the American people will see through the rhetoric and vote for someone based on their merits, not their religion,” said Kent Romney, the peach farmer. “Mormonism doesn’t have the same stigma here in Mexico as it does in the U.S.”
Threats and showdowns
Meredith Romney was opening the gate to his sprawling cattle ranch in the Sierra Madre mountains two years ago when he was ambushed by three men in ski masks. They clubbed him with their pistol butts, put a hood over his head and stuffed him in the back of a sport-utility vehicle as his wife and grandson looked on. Then they drove him deep into the mountains.
“They told me, ‘We’ve been watching you for a month,’ ” Meredith said.
He was marched down a canyon and tied up in a cave for three days, until the family paid an undisclosed sum to get him back. “I just figured my time was up,” Meredith said, shaking his head. “I later found out they’d kidnapped 18 people and killed 14 of them.”
The Romneys have faced threats and political showdowns as long as they’ve been in Mexico, from squatters, resentful locals and crusading politicians keen to get their land. But the dangers they face today are far more sinister and unpredictable.
Gunmen from the Sinaloa cartel wage open warfare against gangs linked to the Juarez cartels, with police and politicians alternately battling them and doing their bidding. The family has hired security experts from Colombia for advice.
The violence has brought a thousand small changes, as well. High school football teams from the United States no longer come down to play against the Mormon boys of Colonia Juarez. Local kids and teenagers who once grew up riding horses everywhere are now mostly kept indoors, and many in the youngest generation of Romneys dream of a safer life in the United States, like other middle-class Mexicans in the region.
“We’re sort of like sitting ducks down here, but nobody wants to leave,” said Jeff Romney, whose friend, a local ceramic artist, was kidnapped, tortured and killed recently; he was found with his genitals severed and stuffed in his mouth. This month was the first time in a year that Jeff had driven from El Paso to see his parents.
“We know that we’re watched whenever we leave town,” Jeff said. “But you can’t be held hostage by fear. That’s no way to live. So you do the best you can.”
“After all,” he said, “Mexico is our home.”
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