By Phoenix Tso
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump met in Los Angeles on Friday with families whose loved ones were killed by undocumented immigrants, saying U.S. immigration policy has allowed criminals from other countries to find sanctuary in American borders.
“People came into the country illegally and killed their children,” Trump said at a press conference at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Friday. “It’s a very sad thing that’s happened to our country.”
Trump, a billionaire real estate mogul, has been under a firestorm of controversy following his June 16 announcement that he would seek the Republican nomination for the November 2016 election.
During his speech, Trump vented about illegal immigrants, claiming that many of the people crossing the border from Mexico are criminals and rapists.
During Friday's event, five people who said their loved ones were killed by undocumented immigrants stood with Trump.
They held up pictures with details of their deceased family members, saying the United States' immigration system allowed the assailants to enter the country illegally, and then got away with little to no jail time.
“All I was hearing was ‘Well, these people work, they contribute, they have to take their kids to school,’” said Don Rosenberg, whose son was fatally hit by a car driven by an undocumented immigrant.
“Like that was a reason that it was okay that they killed people.”
The family members standing with Trump said that he was the only presidential candidate speaking out against illegal immigration.
“All Republicans that are running for office right now, they were going to bamboozle us, because they wanted us to think that they were going to enforce the border,” said Jamiel Shaw, whose son was shot to death by an undocumented immigrant.
“As soon as Mr. Trump started speaking, you see how all of them were trying to criticize him. That means they were going to do nothing.”
Republicans such as 2016 White House rivals Jeb Bush and Chris Christie have distanced themselves from Trump and his position on immigration.
Trump was also in Los Angeles to speak in front of the Friends of Abe, a secretive organization consisting of Hollywood Republicans.
Outside the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel, where the meeting was set, over 100 people gathered in protest.
“We came here to tell Mr. Trump that we’re not criminals and we’re hardworking people,” said Jerry Guardado, an activist.
(Editing by Victoria Cavaliere)