Supporters wait for Donald Trump’s speech to begin at the Phoenix Convention Center. (Jude Joffe-Block / KJZZ)
Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump drew a few thousand people to a rally against illegal immigration at the Phoenix Convention Center on Saturday.
Outside, more than a hundred protesters waved signs accusing Trump of racism. They denounced comments Trump made at his campaign launch about Mexican immigrants being criminals and rapists, saying those remarks were misinformed.
In front of a full room, Trump addressed the blowback he has received since he made those divisive comments. He bragged he’s been able to profit anyway when some companies dropped contracts with him for his comments about Mexicans. And he clarified he supports legal immigration from Mexico.
“I love the Mexican people,” Trump said while the crowd cheered. “I love the spirit of the Mexican people. I love ‘em!”
Then Trump went on to say that Mexico’s “leaders are much smarter, sharper and more cunning than our leaders,” and “they are killing us at the border and they are killing us in trade.”
Trump was introduced by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio who noted their shared interests, such as skepticism over President Barack Obama’s birth certificate.
“Well he investigated it and I am, so that is common. We both want to do something about illegal immigration problem,” Arpaio said.
Some people who had RSVP’d for the event were turned away because the room was at capacity. Debbie Sullivan Smith, who was waiting outside, said the protesters just had misunderstood Trump.
“They don’t know what racism is, they have no clue,” she said.
Eric Sanderson and his friend were turned away at the door. So they watched the speech on their smartphones a few blocks away, and were still impressed.
“The sense I get from him is that he doesn’t care if he gets a broad base of support but as a result he gets it,” Sanderson said. He also said he liked that Trump clarified his position on immigration.
“In fact his wife is a legal immigrant — so how could he not support that. I think the stance he wanted to take a very strong stance on was against illegal immigration and some of the problems that come with that,” Sanderson said.
Trump said “the word is getting out that we have to stop illegal immigration” and called for border enforcement. The rally highlighted two families who had lost sons killed by unauthorized immigrants.
But not everyone at the rally was actually a Trump fan or even considering voting for him.
“I feel like a lot of people are here just to see the spectacle of it,” said 20-year-old college student Ethan Clay.
About 20 minutes into Trump’s speech a group of protesters from outside unfurled a banner that said ‘Stop the Hate’ and chanting. The crowd booed and tried to yank down the banner.
“I wonder if the Mexican government sent them over here, I think so,” Trump said. “Because I’m telling you about the bad deals this country is making. Mexico I respect the country, they are taking our jobs, they are taking our manufacturing, they are taking our everything and they are killing us on the border. And Mexico does not like it. So remember this. Don’t worry we will take our country back, very soon.”
Protester Belen Sisa wasn’t at all pleased by any of Trump’s immigration language on Saturday. She is a DREAMer from Argentina and disagrees with the Trump campaign using examples of violent crimes committed by a handful of immigrants here illegally to demonize all immigrants who entered without papers.
“You can’t put an entire population of people in one category. There are many of us who are valedictorians who are first-generation college students. And you are not talking about us,” Sisa said.
Trump took jabs at fellow GOP contender Jeb Bush in his hour-long remarks. He said he was the best positioned in the Republican field to re-negotiate international trade deals and convince American companies to keep manufacturing jobs inside the U.S. A Reuters Ipsos poll released Saturday showed Trump tied with Bush among Republican presidential candidates.