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Trump’s immigration rhetoric makes inroads with some Democrats. That could be a concern for Biden

WASHINGTON (AP) — The video shared by Donald Trump features horror movie music and footage of migrants purportedly entering the U.S. from countries including Cameroon, Afghanistan and China. Shots of men with tattoos and videos of violent crime are set against close-ups of people waving and wrapping themselves in American flags.

“They’re coming by the thousands,” Trump says in the video, posted on his social media site. “We will secure our borders. And we will restore sovereignty.”

In his speeches and online posts, Trump has ramped up anti-immigrant rhetoric, casting migrants as dangerous criminals “poisoning the blood” of America. His messaging often relies on falsehoods about migration, but it has proved attractive to many core supporters going back a decade, to when “build the wall” rang out at his campaign rallies.

President Joe Biden and his allies portray the situation as a policy dispute that Congress can fix and hits Republicans in Washington for backing away from a border security deal after facing criticism from Trump.

But in a potentially worrying sign for the Democrat, Trump’s message appears to be resonating with key elements of the coalition that Biden will need to win over in November.

Roughly two-thirds of Americans now disapprove of how Biden is handling border security, including about 4 in 10 Democrats, 55% of Black adults and 73% of Hispanic adults, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll conducted in March.

A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 45% of Americans described the situation as a crisis, while another 32% said it was a major problem.

Vetress Boyce, a Chicago-based racial justice activist, was among those who expressed frustration with Biden’s immigration policies and the city’s approach as it tries to shelter newly arriving migrants. She argued that Democrats should focus on economic investment in Black communities, not newcomers.

“They’re sending us people who are starving, the same way Blacks are starving in this country. They’re sending us people who want to escape the conditions and come here for a better lifestyle when the ones here are suffering and have been suffering for over 100 years,” Boyce said. “That recipe is a mixture for disaster. It’s a disaster just waiting to happen.”

Gracie Martinez is a 52-year-old Hispanic small business owner from Eagle Pass, Texas, the border town that Trump visited in February when he and Biden made same-day trips to the state. Martinez said she once voted for former President Barack Obama and is still a Democrat, but now backs Trump — mainly because of the border.

“It’s horrible,” she said. “It’s tons and tons of people and they’re giving them medical and money, phones,” she said, complaining those who went through the legal immigration system are treated worse.

Priscilla Hesles, 55, a teacher who lives in Eagle Pass, described the current situation as “almost an overtaking” that had changed the town.

“We don’t know where they’re hiding. We don’t know where they’ve infiltrated into and where are they going to come out of,” said Hesles, who said she used to take an evening walk to a local church, but stopped after she was shaken by an encounter with a group of men she alleged were migrants.

The president’s reelection campaign recently launched a $30 million ad campaign targeting Latino audiences in key swing states that includes a digital ad in English and Spanish highlighting Trump’s past description of Mexican immigrants as “criminals” and “rapists.”

The White House has mulled a series of executive actions that could drastically tighten immigration restrictions, effectively going around Congress after it failed to pass the bipartisan deal Biden endorsed.

Trump will campaign Tuesday in Wisconsin and Michigan this week, where he is expected to criticize Biden on immigration.

The former president calls recent record-high arrests for southwest border crossings an “invasion” orchestrated by Democrats to transform America. Trump accuses Biden of allowing criminals and potential terrorists to enter the country unchecked.

Trump says migrants — many of them women and children escaping poverty and violence — are “ poisoning the blood ” of America with drugs and disease and claims some migrants are “not people.” Experts who study extremism warn against using dehumanizing language in describing migrants.

There is no evidence that foreign governments are emptying their jails or mental asylums as Trump says. And while conservative news coverage has been dominated by several high-profile and heinous crimes allegedly committed by people in the country illegally, the latest FBI statistics show overall violent crime in the U.S. dropped again last year, continuing a downward trend after a pandemic-era spike.

Studies have also found that people living in the country illegally are far less likely than native-born Americans to have been arrested for violent, drug and property crimes.

Part of what has made the border such a salient issue is that its impact is being felt far from the border.

Trump allies, most notably Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, have used state-funded buses to send more than 100,000 migrants to Democratic-led cities like New York, Denver and Chicago, where Democrats will hold this summer’s convention. The influx has strained city budgets and left local leaders scrambling to provide emergency housing and medical care for new groups of migrants.

Local news coverage has often been negative. Viewers have seen migrants blamed for everything from a string of gang-related New Jersey robberies to burglary rings targeting retail stores in suburban Philadelphia to measles cases in parts of Arizona and Illinois.

To Rudy Menchaca, an Eagle Pass bar owner who also works for a company that imports Corona beer from Mexico, the problems at the border are hurting business.

Menchaca is the kind of Hispanic voter Biden is counting on to back his reelection bid. The 27-year-old said he was never a fan of Trump’s rhetoric and how he portrayed Hispanics and Mexicans. But he also said he was warming to the idea of backing Trump.

“I need those soldiers to be around if I have my business,” Menchaca said of Texas forces dispatched to the border. “The bad ones that come in could break in.”

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Weissert reported from Washington. Associated Press writers David Klepper in Washington and Matt Brown in Chicago contributed to this report.

Will Weissert And Jill Colvin, The Associated Press



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