Using disputed facts and statistics, the president attempted to raise the spectre of “criminal illegal aliens” while staging a White House reception for what he called “angel families” who lost loved ones at the hands of criminals who were in the US illegally.
As he sought to claim that illegal immigrants commit violent crimes at a higher rate than US citizens, Mr Trump was flanked by victims’ families holding a total of 11 photos of their dead relatives. In an unusual combination of bereavement and celebrity, all 11 photos were autographed by the president.
At one point, Mr Trump also compared a dead man in the photos to the actor Tom Selleck.
Repeating a tactic used frequently during his presidential election campaign, Mr Trump posed alongside the “angel families” and said: “We are gathered today to hear directly from the American victims of illegal immigration.”
Apparently alluding to the worldwide controversy over his migrant separation policy which has seen separated children sleeping in what looked like border detention-centre cages, Mr Trump said: “You hear the other side, you never hear this side. You don’t know what’s going on.
“These are the American citizens permanently separated from their loved ones.
“The word ‘permanently’ being the word that you have to think about. Permanently – they’re not separated for a day or two days, these are permanently separated because they were killed by criminal illegal aliens.
“These are the families the media ignores,” Mr Trump added. “These are the stories that Democrats and people who are weak on immigration don’t want to hear about.
“We have to look at everybody. This is a very unfair situation.”
Mr Trump went on to claim: “I always hear that, ‘Oh, no, the population’s safer than the people that live in the country.’ It’s not true. You hear it’s like they’re better people than what we have, than our citizens. It’s not true.”
The Associated Press (AP) later pointed out that detailed studies of decades of crime data had in fact shown that people in the US illegally were less likely to commit crime than American citizens, and legal immigrants are even less likely to do so.
A March study by the journal Criminology examined the years 1990 to 2014 and concluded “undocumented immigration does not increase violence”. In fact, the study suggested, states with bigger shares of undocumented migrants had lower crime rates.
A recent study led by Rubén Rumbaut, a University of California, Irvine sociology professor, noted crime rates fell sharply from 1990 to 2015 at a time when illegal immigration spiked.
Similarly, 2017 research published by Robert Adelman, a sociology professor at University of Buffalo, analysed 40 years of crime data in 200 metropolitan areas and found lower crime rates in places with higher numbers of undocumented migrants.
New York City, for example, has the nation’s largest population of immigrants living in the country illegally – about 500,000 – and last year had only 292 murders among a total population of 8.5 million people.
Citing “just a few statistics on the human toll of illegal immigration”, Mr Trump also referred to a “2011 government report” which he said showed that the arrests attached to the “criminal alien population” included an estimated 25,000 people for homicide, 42,000 for robbery, nearly 70,000 for sex offences and nearly 15,000 for kidnapping.
Mr Trump appeared to be accurately citing statistics in a 2011 US Government Accountability Office report that looked at arrests, costs and incarcerations of immigrants who were in the US illegally.
But AP said the president neglected to also mention that nearly a third of the 3 million arrests of the “criminal alien population” were for immigration (529,859) or traffic offences (404,488).
On Wednesday Mr Trump seemed to perform a U-turn on his migrant family separation policy by signing an executive order overturning it.
Almost immediately; however, he switched to an attack on “illegal immigrants”. On Thursday he told a rally in Minnesota: “I signed an executive order, we’re going to keep families together, but the border is going to be just as tough as it’s been.”
“The media never talks about the American victims of illegal immigration,” he added. “Democrats don’t care about the impact of uncontrolled migration on your communities, your schools, your hospitals, your jobs or your safety.
“Democrats put illegal immigrants before American citizens. What the hell is going on?”
As the 9,000-strong crowd chanted “build that wall”, Mr Trump again vilified Mexican migrants by saying: “They’re not sending their finest, and we’re sending them the hell back!”
We must maintain a Strong Southern Border. We cannot allow our Country to be overrun by illegal immigrants as the Democrats tell their phony stories of sadness and grief, hoping it will help them in the elections. Obama and others had the same pictures, and did nothing about it!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 22, 2018
He later appeared to cast doubt on the stories about separated migrant children in a tweet saying: “We cannot allow our Country to be overrun by illegal immigrants as the Democrats tell their phony stories of sadness and grief, hoping it will help them in the elections.”
Separate news reports have stated that up to 2,000 children are still believed to be separated from their parents.