NEW YORK (AP) - 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.
“That’s a massive story,” Trump responded, saying it would be ignored by the media. “They are letting people pour into the country so they can go ahead and vote.”
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. Newly admitted immigrants are not permitted to vote, a right that is reserved for citizens.
Union spokesman Shawn Moran, who attended the round table, later said the 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 union officials believe that United States Citizen and Immigration Service is working to speed up processing of citizenship applications before the November election. Moran said the discussion “combined” the two separate issues.
The process of achieving citizenship takes years. Citizenship applications are handled by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 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.
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 Clinton are preparing for their second debate, a town-hall style confrontation Sunday night. 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 swing state Florida.
The campaigns spent Thursday moving staff and volunteers, closing offices and canceling events in the path of the storm, as many Floridians heeded calls to evacuate. In Florida, the Clinton campaign pulled its ads from the Weather Channel, amid criticism about insensitivity, and the Trump team pulled its negative TV ads.
“Even if you want to do politics, no one is there to listen,” said Steve Schale, a Democratic consultant who directed or advised Barack Obama’s campaigns in the state in 2008 and 2012.
Both the campaigns and state officials were watching closely how the storm might impact Floridian votes. The storm arrived five days before the voter registration deadline, prompting the Clinton campaign to ask state officials for an extension. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Republican who leads a super PAC working to defeat Clinton, refused.
“Everyone has had a lot of time to register,” he said.
Officials were also eyeing the vote-by-mail operation. Vote-by-mail ballots were due to be sent this week, leaving the potential for ballots to arrive just as voters evacuate their homes. At least half of Florida voters typically cast ballots early, either by mail or in person.
Trump, who is trying to recapture momentum lost in a rocky first debate, practiced his skills in public Thursday night at a town hall in Sandown, New Hampshire. Although his aides called the event a dry run for Sunday, Trump dismissed the notion.
“I said, `Forget debate prep.’ I mean, give me a break,” said Trump, who mocked Clinton for spending days preparing. “She’s resting. She wants to build up her energy for Sunday night. And you know what? That’s fine. But the narrative is so foolish.”
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