'I love Latinos,' says Trump at US-Mexico border

Jennie Matthew
'I love Latinos,' says Trump at US-Mexico border

New York (AFP) - Donald Trump toured the Texas-Mexico border on Thursday to condemn illegal immigration, declare his love for Latinos and to belittle rival White House candidate Hillary Clinton.

The real estate mogul, who is well ahead of his Republican rivals in most polls, is running an aggressive campaign for US president that has condemned illegal immigration.

He flew into the border town of Laredo in a private jet emblazoned with his name, keeping the harsh sunshine at bay with a white baseball hat with his slogan "Make America Great Again."

"There's nothing more important than what I'm doing," the former reality TV star said on arrival, calling illegal immigration "a tremendous problem."

The 69-year-old multi-billionaire caused widespread outrage last month when he accused illegal immigrants from Mexico of importing crime, rape and drugs into the United States.

Thursday's visit was "dangerous," he claimed repeatedly.

"We have a tremendous danger on the border with the illegals coming in," he told a news conference, agreeing to a remark from the crowd that "killers come from all over the world."

But when it came to the Latino community in general, Trump said he was in love. Laredo's population is 95.6 percent Hispanic or Latino.

"I employ thousands and thousands of Hispanics," he said. "I love the people. They're great workers. They're fantastic people and they want legal immigration."

He said he had been "surprised" by how warmly he was received despite spending barely two hours on the ground. Laredo officials appeared delighted to have a celebrity in their midst.

"It's a pleasure," said Laredo mayor Pete Saenz. "The excitement that he brings is also very on the plus side for our city."

But not everyone was happy. The League of United Latin American Citizens staged a protest.

- Border agents' boycott -

The border patrol union, who initially invited Trump, announced a boycott at the eleventh hour following what it called "careful consideration of all the factors involved."

But the local branch of the National Border Patrol Council said it "does not endorse candidates for any political office."

"Make no mistake, our border with Mexico is not secure and there's no doubt that we need to have an honest discussion about that," it added.

An unfazed Trump claimed the union had been silenced by bosses in Washington.

"They're petrified and afraid of saying what's happening," he said. "They have a real problem here... they invited me and then all of a sudden they were told 'silencio.'"

Bolstered by success in a string of polls, Trump said he would win the Republican nomination and took swipe at Clinton, the Democrat contender who enjoys the most approval of any candidate.

"Easily, she's the worst secretary of state in the history of our country. She's going to be beaten and I'm the one to beat her," Trump said.

The tycoon has hogged the headlines with outlandish remarks and media stunts, lampooning rivals, insulting career politicians and castigating illegal immigrants.

Companies such as Macy's, Univision and NBC have cut ties with Trump, but the mogul has refused to tone down his rhetoric.

Over the weekend, he provoked a backlash among the Republican faithful by trash-talking Vietnam war hero Senator John McCain, one of America's most respected politicians.

But, by ruffling the feathers of the Republican establishment and turning almost all his presidential rivals against him, he has dominated news coverage of the campaign.

His opponents have launched counter-attacks -- in part to raise their own profiles in a crowded field of Republican presidential aspirants that now numbers 16.

"Donald Trump's candidacy is a cancer on conservatism, and it must be clearly diagnosed, excised and discarded," White House hopeful Republican Rick Perry said, in particularly harsh remarks on Wednesday.