In First Event as a Felon, Trump Rails Against Border Crisis in Arizona

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In his first campaign event since he became the first American president to be convicted on felony charges, Donald J. Trump on Thursday tried to turn the focus on President Biden by likening his border policy to a criminal enterprise.

Broadly denouncing the migrants crossing the border illegally of being violent criminals and terrorists, Mr. Trump criticized Mr. Biden’s recent executive order meant to curb crossings, saying it would be ineffective after Mr. Biden had taken little action for months.

“With his actions on the border, Joe Biden is the ringleader of one the most vile criminal conspiracies of all time,” Mr. Trump said at a town hall in Phoenix hosted by Turning Point Action, a conservative group.

Mr. Trump, whom prosecutors in Manhattan accused of a criminal conspiracy, and who is also facing felony conspiracy counts in a federal election-interference case, often defends himself from criticisms by dismissing the claims against him, then pointing fingers at his opponents and accusing them of worse transgressions.

His speech in Phoenix previewed how Mr. Trump will most likely downplay the guilty verdict in his Manhattan trial by keeping immigration at the center of his efforts to persuade voters in battleground states to restore him to the White House in November, while defeating the man who thwarted his re-election in 2020.

That strategy may prove particularly potent in Arizona, a border state that Mr. Trump had not visited since 2022. Republican lawmakers voted this week to put a measure on the ballot in November that would make unlawfully crossing the border from Mexico a state crime, part of an effort to harness anti-immigration sentiment at the polls.

Mr. Trump took extensive aim at Mr. Biden’s executive order, which prevents migrants from seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border when crossings surge. He accused the president of deferring action until this week in order to curry favor with voters ahead of the election.

“They come up with this order,” he said. Then, drawing on a favorite rhetorical device of his, he feigned stopping himself from describing it with offensive language. “I won’t say it, because I don’t like using the word ‘bullshit’ in front of these people,” he said.

In response, the crowd packed inside the megachurch where he was speaking, the Dream City Church, began chanting the profanity in unison.

Mr. Trump largely revived familiar criticisms of Mr. Biden’s immigration policy and made a number of unsubstantiated claims about the migrants crossing illegally and the Biden administration. He again insisted, without evidence, that Mr. Biden was “deliberately” encouraging migrants to come illegally in order to become voters for Democrats.

And he once again claimed, without evidence, that the leaders of other countries were intentionally sending prisoners and mentally ill people in caravans across the border. Still, Mr. Trump said that if he were in charge of those countries, he would do the same thing “in a heartbeat.”

Mr. Biden’s campaign was quick to hit back.

“Donald Trump blocked the toughest, fairest bipartisan border legislation in a generation — legislation that would have increased the nation’s border security and helped halt the flow of fentanyl into this country,” Kevin Munoz, a spokesman for Mr. Biden’s campaign, said in a statement, referring to a bill that would have tightened border security but was blocked by Republicans earlier this year.

Mr. Trump conjured up an apocalyptic vision of the country, and of Arizona in particular, if he did not win in November. “Arizona’s being turned into a dumping ground for the dungeons of the third world,” he said.

Immigration was top of mind for many of the Trump supporters both inside the church and outside, where thousands waited for hours in triple-digit heat. The Phoenix Fire Department said 11 people were taken to hospitals to be treated for heat exhaustion throughout the day.

Phoenix residents attributed a variety of problems — rising crime, homelessness, and even crowded schools and hotels — to the surge of migrants crossing the border 180 miles to the south.

“There’s so much homeless around in Phoenix,” said Debbie Joy, 69. “It’s just impacting everything.” She said she felt as if money was being funneled into less important projects like electric vehicles, rather than going toward border restrictions.

Cameron Norlin, 34, said Mr. Biden’s executive order would do little to resolve the “out of control” situation at the border and echoed Mr. Trump’s claims that the action was politically motivated.

“It helps, but it’s more of an election thing that has nothing to do with him wanting to address the issue,” Mr. Norlin said.

After speaking for an hour, Mr. Trump took nearly a dozen questions from the audience, a rare occurrence at campaign events. Immigration and the economy were the prevailing themes.

Mr. Trump did briefly address his trial in New York, in which he was convicted last week on 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up hush-money payments to a porn star during his 2016 campaign.

His remarks stuck to a typical script: that the trial was “rigged” against him, that the judge was “highly conflicted,” and that the charges were “made-up, fabricated stuff.” Mr. Trump, who has been indicted in four separate criminal cases, said that the “appellate courts have to step up and straighten things out.”

Arizona is one of several states that backed Mr. Trump in 2016 but flipped to Mr. Biden in 2020, driven by shifts in the Phoenix suburbs. Mr. Trump lost the state by over 10,000 votes, less than half a percentage point, and the state was central to his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. A number of Trump allies, including Rudolph W. Giuliani, have been indicted on charges related to those efforts.

During his remarks, Mr. Trump repeated his baseless claims of election fraud in Arizona in the 2020 election and the midterm elections in 2022, when candidates he had endorsed were defeated.



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