Trump raises stakes on immigration stance in Vegas

By BOB CHRISTIE, Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) — Presidential candidate Donald Trump is drawing larger crowds as he continues to criticize immigration policies in stark language that has revealed a deep divide within the Republican Party between immigration hawks and moderates who are trying to avoid alienating Hispanic voters.

On Saturday, Trump was scheduled to campaign in Nevada and then in Arizona, a hub of immigrant and drug smuggling where the real estate developer and reality TV star has developed a large following. A rally in Phoenix was first planned at a posh resort that could handle about 1,000 guests, but organizers moved it to the city’s convention center.

Trump’s descriptions of Mexican immigrants bringing drugs and crime to the U.S. and being rapists have been roundly denounced as offensive. But his message about the broken border has resonated with many in the Republican ranks, especially after an immigrant who was deported multiple times was accused of killing a woman on a San Francisco pier.

In Los Angeles for a rally Friday evening, Trump brought together people who said their relatives had been killed by immigrants in the U.S. illegally. “The illegals come in and the illegals killed their children,” he said. “And we better get smart in the United States.”

Trump’s comments after a June 16 campaign kickoff speech helped revive immigration as a campaign issue but also prompted a series of cancellations from companies such as NBC and Macy’s that do business with him or his companies. Trump has joined former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at the top of national polls of the crowded Republican field which includes more than a dozen announced candidates.

Some Republicans are concerned that Trump’s remarks will alienate the growing bloc of Hispanic voters at a time the party needs to boost outreach to avoid a repeat of the 2012 presidential election when Republican candidate Mitt Romney received less than 30 percent of the Latino vote. Both Nevada andArizona have large numbers of Mexican-Americans.

Arizona’s major Chamber of Commerce group, both U.S. senators and a host of other Republican backers heaped their ire on Trump as the visit to Phoenixdrew near. Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who met presidential hopefuls Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker when they were in the state, is snubbing Trump. Protesters like the ones who greeted Trump in Los Angeles were expected.

Maricopa County’s tough-on-immigration sheriff, Joe Arpaio, is set to speak before Trump at the convention center event.

Sen. Jeff Flake, who with Sen. John McCain sponsored a 2013 comprehensive bipartisan immigration reform bill that stalled when it reached the House, said Trump’s views “are coarse, ill-informed and inaccurate, and they are not representative of the Republican Party. As an elected Republican official, I’m disappointed the county party would host a speaker that so damages the party’s image.”

McCain, in a statement issued Friday, said, “If the Republican nominee for president does not support comprehensive immigration reform and border security policy, we have no chance of defeating Hillary Clinton and winning the White House in 2016.”

But A.J. LaFaro, former head of the Maricopa County Republican Party, rejected those views.

“They’re not representative of my conservative Christian values. I understand that Mr. Trump is saying what a lot of people here in the United States, I would like to think a majority of the people here in the Unites States, are thinking,” LaFaro said.

Trump begins Saturday speaking in Las Vegas at the libertarian-minded gathering Freedom Fest. Nevada is 27 percent Hispanic and a key state for Republican candidates. His appearance at the conference, which bills itself as an egalitarian event for free-thinkers to discuss and celebrate liberty, was a recent addition to a lineup that included Rubio on Friday night.

Associated Press writer Kimberly Pierceall in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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