Trump to Phoenix: 'Don't worry, we'll take our country back'
Donald Trump, the billionaire Republican presidential candidate, on Saturday took his anti-illegal-immigration message to Phoenix, delivering a 70-minute speech to a packed downtown ballroom that at times seemed more about needling his White House rivals and settling scores with his critics than public policy.
Trump's at times undisciplined afternoon remarks at the Phoenix Convention Center veered into international trade, national security and foreign policy but always returned to the topic that has his candidacy climbing the polls: immigrants who commit violent crimes while in the United States without authorization.
REACTION:Trump wins hearts of some in GOP, scorn from critics during Phoenix visit
"I respect Mexico greatly as a country, but the problem we have is that their leaders are much smarter, sharper and more cunning than our leaders," Trump said. "And they're killing us at the border."
Trump, one of 14 declared GOP presidential hopefuls, has claimed repeatedly that the Mexican government is deliberately sending criminals to the United States, and has vowed to build a border fence and force Mexico to pay for the construction.
On Saturday, Trump said that as president he would charge Mexico $100,000 for every undocumented immigrant who crossed the border. And after the speech, he told reporters, without elaborating, that he believes "without question" that Mexican officials are complicit in sending undesirable immigrants to this country.
About 20 minutes into Trump's speech, a group of protesters disrupted the speech, and the ballroom immediately erupted. Trump supporters shouted "U-S-A! U-S-A!" as the demonstrators were led out.
MORE:Donald Trump visits Phoenix, talks immigration
"I wonder if the Mexican government sent them over here. I think so," Trump said to applause. "Because I'm telling you. I tell about the bad deals that this country is making. Mexico — I respect the country — they're taking our jobs, they're taking our manufacturing, they're taking our money, they're taking everything, and they're killing us at the border."
He added: "Don't worry, we'll take our country back."
Throughout his Phoenix visit, Trump stressed that he loves the Mexican people and their "spirit" and that he respects Mexico. He repeatedly blamed a "dishonest" media that he said took his previous remarks out of context. Trump has drawn heat for saying many Mexican immigrants bring drugs and crime to the United States and are rapists.
"We have a situation that's absolutely out of control," Trump told his 4,200 supporters in a crowd that displayed surprising intensity. "We have incompetent politicians, not only the president. I mean, right here, in your own state, you have John McCain."
The audience booed at the mention of McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee and senator from Arizona who has publicly disagreed with Trump's comments about immigrants.
"For some reason, some people don't get it, and I don't think they'll be in office much longer," Trump said. "We are going to make this country so great again. We are going to work so hard."
Trump later predicted to reporters that he will win over Latinos because his policies will provide them jobs.
"I will win the Latino vote," Trump said. "I have employed tens of thousands of Latinos over the years. I employ many, many Latinos right now. They love me. I love them. They're fantastic people. But they come to the country legally."
Trump repeatedly referred to crimes in which undocumented immigrants killed people.
At one point, Trump invited Jamiel Shaw Sr. to speak. Shaw told how his son, a Los Angeles high-school student and athlete, was shot and killed by an undocumented Mexican gang member in 2008. Before Trump arrived, Mary Ann Mendoza addressed the crowd. Her son Brandon Mendoza, a Mesa police officer, was killed in a head-on collision with an undocumented immigrant who was driving the wrong way.
"I tell people all the time when they protest me, when they protest Mr. Trump, what you have to do is soul search," Shaw said. "Put yourself in my shoes. Think about your child. A man in the street dead. Your mother, your wife, your father, anybody. ... Then find out that someone illegally in the country did it."
Trump was preceded on stage by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has a national reputation as an immigration hard-liner and whose department was found by a federal judge to have racially profiled Latinos.
Arpaio brought up his and Trump's interest in President Barack Obama's birth certificate and the widely debunked conspiracy theory that Obama was not born in the United States and thus is not eligible to serve as president under the Constitution.
"We had a couple of things in common. I won't talk much about it, but the birth certificate," Arpaio said. "He investigated it. And I have. That's common. We both want do something about the illegal-immigration problem."
While stopping illegal immigration was the main theme of the speech, Trump also spent a lot of time ridiculing the companies who have cut business ties with him over his inflammatory anti-illegal-immigrant rhetoric. Those companies include ESPN, NASCAR, NBC, Univision and Macy's Department Stores.
Trump also repeatedly slammed Obama and two presidential rivals, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, another leading GOP contender.
Trump criticized Obama for his approach to negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran and for his swapping of Taliban prisoners for captured Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who subsequently was charged with desertion and whom Trump dubbed "a no-good traitor."
The president is "weak, and he's ineffective, and he's not respected," Trump said.
And the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as "Obamacare," must be repealed and replaced, he said.
As for Clinton, Trump dismissed her as "the worst secretary of State in the history of our country" who he said would make "a horrible president."
He ripped Bush as weak on immigration and education policy.
"How could I be tied with this guy? He's terrible," Trump said of Bush. "If you people go with Bush, you're going to lose."