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  1. Florida Politics

Hispanics love me, declares Donald Trump at the Mexican border (w/video)

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks after arriving at the airport for a visit to the U.S. Mexico border in Laredo, Texas, Thursday. Trump is touring the border area to highlight his concerns about immigration policies. [Associated Press]
Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks after arriving at the airport for a visit to the U.S. Mexico border in Laredo, Texas, Thursday. Trump is touring the border area to highlight his concerns about immigration policies. [Associated Press]
Published Jul. 24, 2015

LAREDO, Texas — Despite what Donald Trump's campaign called "great danger," the Republican presidential hopeful took his 757 on Thursday to the spot that made his presidential campaign among the most reviled, admired and remarked upon in recent memory: the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump, in a spectacle marked by typical flourishes of bravado, did not recant or apologize for branding most Mexicans who cross the border rapists and drug traffickers.

He bragged that he had "thousands of Latinos working for me," assured that "the Latino vote will be very easy" and declared that the U.S. Border Patrol was "petrified" because "I'm talking about what's happening on the whole border."

"There is great danger with the illegals, tremendous danger with illegals," the real estate mogul, former reality television star and leading GOP candidate said from a podium set up in a dusty lot next to the bridge checkpoint.

His actual visit to the border lasted less than an hour. "I have seen it here," he proclaimed.

Many residents of Laredo, a port city and border town of 250,000 whose huge Latino population elects mostly Democrats, stood in front of homes and businesses and outside the Landmark Aviation office at Laredo airport. They snapped pictures and held signs announcing, "Trump is a chump!" and "Trump's hair is illegal."

"He's a smart man. He gets publicity, good or bad," said Adolfo Gonzalez, 66, of Laredo, an Army veteran and retired high school teacher. "He's just trying to get publicity coming to a place he's not wanted."

Gonzalez stood next to a woman shouting "Dump Trump!" through a megaphone and predicted Trump's rhetoric will damage his campaign in the long run.

"He's getting more popular on the wrong side — Latinos are one of the fastest-growing populations in the country, so for him to be working against us will hurt him. It's uniting the Latino population not to go out and vote for him," Gonzalez said.

Trump insisted that protesters "were chanting for me."

His remarks about Mexicans crossing the border, made during his announcement speech last month, prompted many of his most prominent business partners to denounce him and made him a pariah in much of the Latino community. The comments also helped him appeal to part of the Republican Party's base, propelling him into the lead in primary polls, much to the concern of establishment Republicans who are trying to broaden the party's demographic appeal.

Trump last weekend drew broader condemnation from rivals and the Republican Party for questioning the heroism of Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who refused early release during more than five years of torture and captivity in North Vietnam.

To reach the border, Trump and his motorcade drove about 15 minutes south of the airport. Across the Rio Grande is Laredo's sister city of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, which has been plagued in recent years by drug cartel and gang violence. Laredo is a bustling industrial hub west of the Rio Grande Valley, which was inundated last summer with immigrant families, mostly from Central America.

Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz stood by Trump during his news conference, but did not endorse his rhetoric. He said the country needs better immigration enforcement but also needs a comprehensive overhaul.

"We appreciate all the attention," he said, reeling off some of the community's business attributes.

Trump had been scheduled to meet with representatives from the local Border Patrol union, who had invited him. Trump said the union, the National Border Patrol Council Local 2455, was pressured by superiors to withdraw from the event.

"There is a huge problem with the illegals coming through; in this section it's a problem and in other sections it's a bigger problem," Trump said, adding he still favors building a border wall "in certain sections."

"The wall will save you a tremendous amount of money," he said.

The National Border Patrol Council said in a statement that it requested the withdrawal because it did not want to endorse Trump, whose comments about McCain "are disrespectful not just to the senator but to all veterans, many of whom serve as Border Patrol agents."

Trump's continued provocations have frustrated many in his party. He threatened in an interview with The Hill on Wednesday that he might run as an independent if he fails to secure the GOP nomination. On Thursday, he downplayed the threat but did not deny it.

"I'm Republican, I'm conservative, I'm in first place by a lot it seems. I think I'll get the nomination," he said.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry challenged Trump to "explain to the people of Laredo why he thinks they should be on the hook to secure our country's border with Mexico, rather than the federal government" and "explain to the Hispanic-Americans he meets why he thinks they are rapists and murderers."

"It's going to take more than a day trip for him to convince the American people he is anything but a hypocrite when it comes to border security," Perry, who is also competing for the GOP presidential nomination, said in a statement.

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