Hispanics love me, Trump declares at Mexican border

By JILL COLVIN, Associated Press

LAREDO, Texas (AP) — Donald Trump paid a visit to the Mexican border Thursday, predicting Hispanics would love him as president despite roiling the Republican race by branding Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. His comments have sparked a feud with exasperated Republican rivals who find the billionaire’s words worrisome as they court the surging bloc of Latino voters.

Trump’s in-and-out border visit came as the businessman and reality TV host has dominated attention in the Republican presidential race and seen his ratings roar, though he remains a longshot candidate for the White House. He has thrust himself into America’s heated immigration debate, one that has put Republicans in a bind as they try to woo Hispanics, the biggest U.S. minority and one that has voted overwhelmingly Democratic in recent presidential elections.

“There’s great danger with the illegals,” Trump told reporters, referring to the millions of Americans living in the U.S. illegally, many of them Hispanic. But he claimed a “great relationship” with Hispanics, even as Latino leaders have come at him with blistering criticism for his painting Mexican immigrants as criminals.

“I’ll take jobs back from China, I’ll take jobs back from Japan,” Trump said. “The Hispanics are going to get those jobs, and they’re going to love Trump.”

Republicans are eager to avoid the fate of their 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, who earned just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote after endorsing “self-deportation” as a viable policy for solving America’s immigration crisis. The renewed focus on immigration has revealed a growing willingness among Republican presidential contenders to let immigrants living in the U.S. illegally remain here. Such a position is derided as “amnesty” by the Republicans’ conservative tea party wing, yet it is quietly becoming the majority view in the 2016 Republican presidential class.

Trump has overshadowed the carefully-crafted views held by Republican heavyweights. The bilingual Jeb Bush, the brother and son of presidents and former governor of Florida, offered a distinctly different message— and spoke partly in Spanish while campaigning in New Hampshire.

“A Republican will never be elected president of the United States again unless we campaign like this,” Bush said, gesturing with open arms.

“Unless we campaign openly — where we campaign in every nook and cranny of this country, where we go campaign in the Latino communities, fast-growing communities all across this country that will make a difference in who the next president is going to be.”

Trump set up a dramatic scene in advance of his own campaign trip, saying he was putting himself in “great danger” by coming to the border area across from the volatile Mexican city of Nuevo Laredo.

A local border patrol union pulled out of events involving him. Patrol agents had planned to accompany Trump to the border and hold a meeting with him but canceled after consultations with their national union, the National Border Patrol Council, said local union president Hector Garza.

Trump stepped off his plane in Laredo and said the union members backed out because they were “petrified and they’re afraid of saying what’s happening” at the border. Dozens of people were on hand, a mix of protesters and supporters.

Some chanted “fuera,” telling him to get out; a supporter waved a sign, “no era insulto,” meaning his remarks about immigrants that touched off a feud with Republican rivals were not an insult.

On his claim about repatriating jobs, Trump has offered few specifics on the economic policies he would pursue if elected president. In his announcement speech last month, he called for rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and renegotiating foreign trade deals but did not say how he would seek to recast those agreements.

In recent years, he’s called for a hefty tax on imports, criticized North American and South Korean trade deals and said Ford should be penalized for expanding operations in Mexico. Yet, paradoxically, he’s praised globalization for tearing down barriers to international markets.

Mexico’s secretary of state, Jose Antonio Meade Kuribrena, told the San Francisco Chronicle that Trump’s views “have no place in politics.” They are “colored by prejudice, racism — or just plain ignorance,” he said.

Trump’s rivals face his tactics of calling out his critics by name, vilifying the Republican establishment and injecting inflammatory rhetoric into the immigration debate when he announced his campaign.

In Washington on Wednesday, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry denounced Trump’s campaign as a “cancer on conservatism” and a “barking carnival act” in a speech that defined “Trumpism” as “a toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued.”

Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Seth Robbins contributed to this report.