Former president Donald Trump on Sunday accused undocumented immigrants of waging an “invasion” of the United States, in a speech that highlighted his frequent use of dehumanizing language and exaggerated terms to describe many foreigners seeking to enter the country.
During a campaign event in Reno, Nev., the clear polling leader in the Republican race blamed President Biden for what he portrayed as a dangerous incursion on the homeland — although many migrants detained at the southern border are parents and children seeking protection, and studies show that undocumented immigrants are less likely than U.S. citizens to commit crimes.
“This is an invasion. This is like a military invasion,” Trump said. “Drugs, criminals, gang members and terrorists are pouring into our country at record levels. We’ve never seen anything like it. They’re taking over our cities.”
Trump has drawn renewed criticism over his rhetoric toward undocumented immigrants, and on Saturday, he accused them in a speech and in a social media post of “poisoning the blood” of the country. That language has caused alarm among some civil rights advocates and immigrant groups, who have compared it to the writings of Adolf Hitler.
Immigration remains a vulnerable political area for Biden, with polls showing disapproval of his handling of the border and Democrat-led cities straining to accommodate the newcomers. The Biden administration has struggled to manage a major influx of migrants, including record numbers of parents traveling with children.
Experts disputed the use of the term “invasion” to describe the situation, and advocates for immigrants have criticized Trump and other GOP officials for their use of such words, noting that most are fleeing persecution or poverty and seeking humanitarian protection.
During his speech on Sunday, Trump reiterated that in a second term he would have the “largest deportation operation in American history.” He falsely portrayed immigrants as coming from “mental institutions and insane asylums,” and pledged to “shift massive portions of federal law enforcement to immigration enforcement” and have “strong ideological screening.”
Trump also described what he said were “so many criminals being dumped” into the United States and accused Democrats of turning America into a “haven for bloodthirsty criminals.”
Trump has made hard-line immigration policies a key focus of his pitch for a second term, and he has said that he would “close the border” and reinstate his travel ban. During a recent town hall with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Trump took it a step further, saying he would not be a dictator, “except for Day One,” before going on to declare that he wanted to “close the border” and “drill, drill, drill.”
Border agents made about 2 million arrests at the southern border last fiscal year, which ran from Oct. 1, 2022, to Sept. 30, down slightly from the year before. Nearly 37 percent of those taken into custody were parents or children, including underage minors traveling alone, according to U.S. Border Patrol data.
Trump has long used language disparaging undocumented immigrants. When Trump launched his 2016 presidential run, he called undocumented immigrants from Mexico “rapists” who brought “drugs” and “crime.” While he was in the White House, Trump signed an executive order that limited travel from several Muslim-majority countries — a practice he has suggested he would reinstate in a second term — and faced backlash for a policy that separated migrant families. Trump and congressional Republicans are expected to make border crossings a primary focus next year.
“Now that he has filled in the blanks and made what many feared was implied in his rhetoric now explicit, what he is talking about is preventing different cultures, people of color, from joining our great American commonwealth in order to protect White people,” said Timothy Naftali, a senior research scholar at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
Shortly after pledging to crack down on “illegal alien gang violence,” Trump referred to the Obama administration, asking the audience in Reno: “Anybody ever heard of Barack Hussein Obama?” Trump has made a point of including Obama’s middle name — which he repeated more than once on Sunday — in his remarks. He has frequently criticized Obama and perpetuated the conspiracy theory that Obama was not born in the United States.
In his speech Sunday, Trump once again portrayed the country in dark and ominous terms.
If elected to a second term, Trump said, “safety will again be restored so that our children can go out with their parents, mother and father, and play in the park without being beat up, molested or shot.”
In addition to promising to move forward on hard-line immigration policies, Trump on Sunday reiterated his claim that Biden is a “threat to democracy,” as he sought to redirect criticism he has received for embracing rhetoric and plans that experts say imperil democratic practices.
Trump delivered his speech at a time when he is facing multiple criminal charges. He is the first former U.S. president to be indicted on criminal charges and has been indicted in four cases. Trump has denied wrongdoing and alleged without evidence that his four indictments and 91 charges are politically motivated.
Trump concluded his speech Sunday by calling the United States a “Third World nation that has weaponized its law enforcement against the opposing political party like never ever before,” as a song associated with the QAnon extremist movement played in the background.