US president Donald Trump has accused Latin American countries of sending criminals to the United States, vowing to increase US military presence at the Mexican border.
Mr Trump, who travelled to Texas on Wednesday for a series of fundraising events, held an impromptu press conference at what was scheduled to be a private round-table discussion with supporters in San Antonio.
Having summoned the media to the event, Mr Trump said he had heard stories from those present about their experience with migrants. He said that many migrants were found dead on ranches in Texas, while others had raided houses, describing smugglers who give migrants false information about the distances they will travel as “the worst scum in the world”.
"They start to walk and they think Houston is a half-mile away, but it is 300 miles." Many ranchers now "go to the gate in doubles" amid fears they could be murdered, he said.
The president hit out in particular at El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Colombia, accusing those countries of sending migrants to the United States.
“They’re sending them to the United States because they think that the people of the United States are stupid,” he said, accusing those countries of sending “the tough ones . . . the gang members”.
In contrast, he said that those from Mexico "come in and help with the farming and they go out, no problem".
“Dangerous people are coming here and the good people are dying,” he said. He also vowed to send more military personnel to the border but complained that the military “can’t act like a military would act, because if they got a little rough, everybody would go crazy”.
Blaming Democrats for “horrible laws” on immigration, Mr Trump said he believed the party will pay “a very big price in 2020” for their stance on the issue.
“I think the border is going to be an incredible issue,” he said.
Mr Trump was speaking amid a renewed focus on immigration and border security by the president in recent weeks.
Speaking to reporters as he left Washington for Texas, Mr Trump dismissed suggestions that his 33-year-old aide Stephen Miller was now running the White House's immigration policy following the decision by Mr Trump to dismiss secretary of homeland security Kirstjen Nielsen.
“Frankly, there is only one person that is running it. You know who that is? It’s me,” he said, though he described Mr Miller as “a brilliant man”.
Meanwhile, attorney general William Barr told members of Congress during scheduled testimony that he believed the FBI spied on Mr Trump's campaign team during the 2016 presidential campaign.
"I think spying did occur," Mr Barr told the Senate appropriations committee. "But the question is whether it was predicated, adequately predicated," he said, adding: "I need to explore that."
Mr Barr’s suggestion is likely to please many Republicans who have argued that the FBI and elements of the US intelligence services were unfairly biased against Mr Trump during the 2016 campaign.