After being shunned by the union that represents the federal Border Patrol, Donald Trump said he would strengthen frontier defenses by increasing the presence of troops and fortifying the wall that separates the U.S. from Mexico.
Speaking in Laredo, Texas, the 69-year-old billionaire real estate developer, reality-television host and Republican presidential frontrunner said he was confident that he would take the nomination. He said he would win over Latino voters even after describing undocumented Mexican immigrants as criminals, setting off a firestorm of criticism.
“I’ll win the Hispanic vote,” Trump told reporters at the World Trade Bridge, one of 28 spans connecting Mexico and the U.S. in Texas. “Over the years, thousands and thousands of Hispanics have worked for me, and now work for me.”
Border Patrol agents had planned to accompany Trump and hold a meeting with him but backed out after consultations with their national union, the National Border Patrol Council said. Trump said the local was silenced by superiors in Washington.
“The Border Patrol was the one who invited me, and then they canceled,” Trump said “Frankly, they don’t want to get involved.”
Hector Garza, president of the union local, said in a statement that the group doesn’t endorse political candidates and decided to pull out of all Trump events.
Appearing alongside Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz, Trump was peppered with questions about the wisdom of cracking down on border security when apprehensions of undocumented migrants are near all-time lows.
When his private plane -- painted red, white and blue -- landed in Laredo, Trump was greeted by throngs, some holding American flags, others chanting “No Trump” and carrying signs that said “Dump Trump.” He addressed reporters at the bridge and then spoke at the Paseo Real Reception Hall.
Sporting white slacks, white shoes and a white baseball cap that said “Make America Great Again,” Trump was asked by an audience member whether he felt he owed Hispanics an apology for his recent remarks. He said that the media had twisted his words.
“People realize the problem we have in this country with illegal immigration,” he said.
Many Latinos came out to support the candidate. Jerry Garza, a 25-year-old Laredo native, said he would vote for Trump in 2016.
“People have gotten the wrong impression -- he truly cares about our vote, Latinos, that’s why he came down to visit,” Garza said as Trump’s jetliner taxied down the tarmac. “He’s rich, he’s like a billionaire, he doesn’t need to be here. He could be at home just relaxing, counting his money, but he cares about our country and the future, and that’s why he’s here.”
Republicans have struggled with how to deal with Trump, who is one of 16 seeking the party’s nomination. He gained in opinion polls after saying in his announcement speech that Mexico is sending rapists and criminals to the U.S.
That caused a backlash from Latinos, who are crucial to winning the White House in 2016. In Mexico, Trump pinatas were sold. NBC, Univision and Macy’s cut ties with him.
Trump was also attacked by fellow Republicans after he said last weekend that Arizona Senator John McCain, a Vietnam veteran and former Republican presidential candidate who was captured and tortured for five years, was considered a hero only because he was a prisoner of war.
Trump came in on top of the field nationally, with 24 percent of Republican registered voters supporting him in a poll by the Washington Post and ABC News released this week.