WASHINGTON, D.C. – For the second time in two years, Cleveland businessman Bernie Moreno is running for U.S. Senate as a pro-Donald Trump Republican who speaks often about his own journey as an immigrant and his insistence that Trump’s hardline border policies made sense. 

But seven years ago, before seeking public office, Moreno criticized Trump’s approach and made public appeals for “common sense immigration reform” – including the creation of a mechanism to allow some undocumented immigrants to become citizens, a review by Spectrum News shows.

What You Need To Know

  • As he courts former President Donald Trump’s endorsement, Ohio U.S. Senate candidate Bernie Moreno praises Trump’s border policies while speaking about his own journey as an immigrant

  • But in 2016, before he was a political candidate, Moreno called for “common sense immigration reform” and criticized Trump’s approach

  • Immigration is front and center in Washington and on the campaign trail after the Trump-era border policy Title 42 expired last week
  • Moreno’s campaign tells Spectrum News that he “was initially skeptical” of Trump, but now believes “America desperately needs his leadership back in the White House, particularly on the issue of stopping the invasion at the border”

Moreno, a luxury car dealer and tech entrepreneur who launched his second Senate bid in April, is heavily courting Trump’s endorsement, a strategy that helped JD Vance win a competitive and rowdy GOP primary last year that Moreno also competed in. Vance went on to win the general election for Senate in November.

Last month, before Moreno formally launched his second campaign for Senate, Trump released a statement praising him. “He would not be easy to beat, especially against [Ohio Sen. Sherrod] Brown, one of the worst in the Senate!” Trump wrote on his social media network, Truth Social.

Moreno's focus on immigration

Moreno is making immigration a centerpiece of his current campaign, as he did in his last Senate bid.

Moreno was born in Bogota, Colombia, and arrived in the U.S. with his family when he was five. He became an American citizen at 18 and amassed a fortune opening car dealerships throughout Ohio.

“I’m a pro-Trump, legal immigrant. We came to be Americans. Illegals come because of the freebies. Free money from Biden and to take your job,” Moreno said in a December 2021 TV ad he aired during his first run for Senate.

Throughout that campaign, Moreno praised Trump as being “100% right on immigration” and traveled to the U.S. - Mexico border to highlight the issue.

When he launched his second Senate bid on April 18 of this year, Moreno told supporters, “We should shut down the federal government until our elected officials seal our border,” according to audio obtained by Spectrum News. His campaign website lists as a top priority, “Secure America’s borders, stop amnesty and destroy the Mexican Drug Cartels.”

The topic of immigration has been front and center in Washington as the Trump-era pandemic border policy Title 42 ended last week. It allowed the government to use the pandemic as grounds to quickly turn away most migrants seeking asylum who crossed into the U.S. illegally, returning them to their home country or Mexico. The number of illegal crossings spiked in the lead-up to the policy expiring, but has since fallen.

As it expired, Moreno released a statement blaming President Joe Biden and Brown for supporting border policies that “have led to millions of illegals streaming into our country unabated.” He called for Title 42 to be extended, for the military to be sent to the border “in a law enforcement capacity,” and for leaders to “make crystal clear to those attempting to break our laws that we won’t allow any backdoor amnesty, including through so-called 'asylum.'”

Moreno’s 2016 comments compared to today

Back in 2016, before he was a political candidate, Moreno made public appeals for “common sense immigration reform,” called for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the U.S., and listed Trump and Adolf Hitler in a now-deleted Twitter poll that said, “He attacked immigrants.”

In February 2016, Moreno tweeted the now-deleted Twitter poll that listed Trump and Hitler. “He attacked immigrants, tries to silence the press, & appeals to the darkest part of human nature,” it read. Of the 13 votes cast, Hitler received 69% while Trump earned 31%.


In August 2016, Moreno spoke about immigration in an interview with New American Economy, a national nonprofit originally founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg that worked on immigration research and advocacy. The organization has since merged with the American Immigration Council.

“The approach should be ‘What’s in it for America?’” Moreno said of immigration. “If you went to Harvard and got a degree, that sounds like someone we want here who will make a positive contribution to the country.” 

He said America’s immigration laws should be designed with the goal “to help [immigrants] become Americans” so they could succeed.

Moreno also spoke about the then-11 million undocumented immigrants who were already living in the U.S. “We can’t throw out the people who came here as children. They don’t know anyone from their home countries. We need to help them come out of the shadows,” he said.

In an October 2016 video filmed for New American Economy, Moreno said: “Hi, my name is Bernie Moreno. I’m a Cleveland business owner. And what I’d like to see is common sense immigration reform. The idea that people come here that add value to the country, that should be the basis that we allow immigration. And that’s why I think we need reform.”

In a statement to Spectrum News, Moreno campaign spokesman Conor McGuinness addressed these comments from 2016:

“It’s no secret that Bernie, like many others, was initially skeptical of President Trump back in 2016, but he is proud to be the only candidate or perspective candidate in this race to endorse Trump in the 2024 election and believes that America desperately needs his leadership back in the White House, particularly on the issue of stopping the invasion at the border. 

“There’s a right way and a wrong way to come to America and Bernie believes that people should come here the right way like he did, especially since the situation at the border is so much worse today than it was in 2016. It’s why since entering the political world in 2021, Bernie has visited the border twice and made ending illegal immigration the center piece of his message. While Bernie has long supported merit based legal immigration reform, along the lines of the President Trump endorsed RAISE Act, we must first focus on finally securing the border and stopping the invasion happening there. We have now seen with our own eyes how Obama’s executive amnesty ended up leading to even more illegal immigration, which is why Bernie strongly opposes amnesty for anyone in this country illegally today.”

The ongoing debate over immigration policy

In recent years, Republicans have warmed to Trump’s approach on immigration, including a desire to continue building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and embracing a merit-based approach to legally accepting people into the country.

The RAISE Act, introduced by Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton and other Republicans during Trump’s term in office, sought to “[give] priority to the best-skilled immigrants from around the world and [reduce] overall immigration levels.” Trump backed it.

Brown, the Democratic incumbent whom Moreno hopes to face and unseat next year, told Spectrum News last week he wanted Title 42 to be extended for another two years. In response, Moreno tweeted out a Fox News article that stated Brown “signed a 2020 Democrat letter condemning Title 42 as a ‘CDC asylum ban.’"

“Sherrod Brown has spent decades in DC voting against securing the border & supporting amnesty. He opposed Title 42 when Trump instituted it, but is now gaslighting people claiming he supports it, like a typical career politician,” Moreno wrote on Twitter. “We must close the border and stop the invasion!”

The 2024 Ohio Senate race is expected to be one of the most expensive and competitive in the country. 

In addition to Moreno, State Sen. Matt Dolan is also running for the GOP nomination. He recently traveled to the southern border and then released an op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch where he criticized Brown and Biden’s policy approach.

“The wall should be finished where appropriate,” Dolan wrote. “The technology in place should be turned back on, border patrol officers need to be given the authority to act as law enforcement officers, not mere escorts…We need to keep Title 42 in place and end the catch and release policy once and for all.”