NEW YORK – Seizing on comments from a Border Patrol union leader, Donald Trump said Friday that agents have been told to allow immigrants into the United States illegally “so they can vote in the election.” But he offered no evidence to support his most recent claim that presidential voting may be tainted by fraud.
In a round table on border security, Trump responded to comments from Art Del Cueto, a vice president for the National Border Patrol Council, who told the candidate that officials in the U.S. are being directed to ignore immigrants’ criminal histories and speed up citizenship applications.
“They are letting people pour into the country so they can go ahead and vote,” the Republican presidential candidate responded, saying it would be ignored by the media.
Neither Del Cueto nor Trump offered evidence to back up the idea immigration officials are taking action to allow people who have recently crossed the border to cast ballots on Election Day. A union spokesman later acknowledged the discussion was misleading. Newly admitted immigrants are not permitted to vote, a right that is reserved for citizens.
Trump has repeatedly said he fears the election will be rigged and has made a hard-line stance on immigration a centerpiece of his campaign. His latest provocative claim comes as Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton are increasingly focused on their second debate, a town-hall style confrontation Sunday night. Clinton spent Friday preparing with advisers near her suburban New York home.
It’s a critical moment for Trump, who after a rough performance in last week’s debate is tasked with showing he can stick to his campaign message and steer clear of comments likely to alienate moderate voters.
Trump showed little success on that front Friday. The New York businessman weighed in on the contentious racially charged “Central Park Five” rape case, in which five black teenage boys were convicted in the attack on a 28-year-old white woman jogging through Central Park.
But in 2002, another man confessed to the crime and DNA evidence linked him to the crime scene. The five who were convicted received a $41 million settlement from New York State in 2014.
“They admitted they were guilty,” Trump said in a statement to CNN that was published Friday. “The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous. And the woman, so badly injured, will never be the same.”
Trump and Clinton had been treading somewhat lightly on the campaign trail in recent days, as Hurricane Matthew barreled down on Florida and the campaigns tried to show sensitivity to the unfolding crisis in the swing state.
Both candidates received briefings by phone from top Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials on the storm and issued statements urging residents to stay safe.
Trump, however, quickly veered from his message of support.
After the round table at Trump Tower, National Border Patrol Council spokesman Shawn Moran said discussion between the candidate and the union leader was misleading.
Border Patrol agents have indeed seen an increase in attempts to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, Moran said. And, separately, union officials believe that United States Citizen and Immigration Services is working to speed up processing of citizenship applications before the November election. Moran said the discussion conflated the two separate issues.
The process of achieving citizenship takes years. Citizenship applications are handled by USCIS, not the Border Patrol.
There is no evidence that USCIS officials have been directed to quickly approve citizenship applications, though some lawmakers have asked the agency to address such reports. The union pointed to an internal email showing that overtime was offered to workers in a Houston field office to process pending citizenship applications, but there is nothing in the note directing officials to speed up the approval process or ignore an applicant’s criminal history.
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