As always Donald Trump was well prepared for the cameras on Thursday in Laredo, Texas, where he made a three-hour stopover to inspect the border crossing with Mexico and convey the message to local residents there that “I love the Hispanics who work for me.”
At the Laredo International Airport, Trump’s private jet was welcomed by both supporters and opponents, who were waving US and Mexican flags.
“There’s nothing more important than what I’m doing,” said Trump, who called illegal immigration to the US “a tremendous problem”
Under tight security, the Republican presidential contender met with Mayor Pete Saenz, City Manager Jesús Olivares and other local officials before touring part of the border crossing – one of the busiest in the United States.
“We are going to make America great again,” said Trump, who wore a white baseball cap emblazoned with the same slogan.
“There’s nothing more important than what I’m doing,” the former reality TV star said, adding that illegal immigration from Mexico was “a tremendous problem.”
The trip got off to a rocky start when the local union of the US Border Patrol, which had initially invited Trump to meet with officers and agents, pulled out of the event after it consulted with its parent group in Washington.
The GOP candidate said that he had evidence that Mexico was sending its criminals to the United States
“After careful consideration of all the factors involved in this event and communicating with members of the National Border Patrol Council, it was decided that Local 2455 will not participate in the events,” said local chapter president Hector Garza, a US Border Patrol agent who has been critical of the agency’s performance at the Texas-Mexico border.
“They’re petrified and afraid of saying what’s happening,” Trump said later. “They have a real problem here [...]. They invited me and then all of a sudden they were told silencio.”
In a statement, the Trump campaign blamed the snub on the union’s superiors, “who do not want people to know how bad it is on the border – every bit as bad as Mr Trump has been saying.”
When asked by reporters during a news conference on whether he would still consider building a wall along the US-Mexico border to help stem the flow of illegal migrants, Trump said that walls are needed in some parts of the 3,145-kilometer frontier.
“A border wall would help us save a lot of money. We need to build a wall,” he said.
The GOP candidate, who is leading his rivals in major polls, said that he had evidence that Mexico was sending its criminals to the United States. But when a reporter asked him for the proof, Trump said it would be released in due course.
Trump praised the work performed by Mayor Saenz and City Manager Olivares in the South Texas city, which has a 95 percent Latino-Hispanic population. “I am going to take Jesús back with me and give him a job,” Trump joked with reporters.
Democratic US Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas, whose brother Julian serves as secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the Obama administration, criticized the Laredo leaders for allowing Trump to take advantage of them.
“Donald Trump just used you and the other councilmembers to make him look good. Embarrassing for South Texas and Hispanics,” he wrote on Twitter.
Trump caused an uproar among the Hispanic-Latino community in June when he accused Mexico of sending over “rapists,” “drug traffickers” and other “criminals.” It was during this speech, in which he announced his presidential run, that he proposed building a wall to keep migrants out and forcing Mexico to pay for it.
After his remarks, companies such as Macy's, Univision and NBC cut ties with Trump, but the real estate mogul has been unapologetic.
Yet on Thursday, he seemed to reach out to the Latino community, promising to win back American jobs that have been “taken by China and other countries” and give them to jobless Latinos in the United States.
Trump is at, or near, the top of many polls among the 16 candidates in the Republican race
“I employ thousands and thousands of Hispanics,” he said. “I love these people. They’re great workers. They’re fantastic people and they want legal immigration.”
Trump is at, or near, the top of many opinion polls among the 16 candidates in the race for the Republican nomination for the 2016 presidential election.
A recent poll conducted by ABC and The Washington Post shows that Trump is the favorite candidate among registered Republican voters, garnering a 24-percent approval rating while his closest party rivals, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, received 13 percent and 12 percent, respectively.
Trump has poked fun at his rivals and insulted career politicians, and on Thursday he took a swipe at Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic presidential contender.
Hillary is going to be beaten and I’m the one to beat her”
“Easily, she’s the worst secretary of state in the history of our country. She’s going to be beaten and I’m the one to beat her,” Trump said.
In a statement, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is also seeking the GOP nomination, said that he hoped Trump would explain to the Latino-Hispanic community why he believes “they are rapists and murderers.”
“I hope he apologizes for making fun of the Department of Security,” Perry said.
Trump has criticized Perry’s work in securing the Texas-Mexico border, calling it “terrible.”