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Trump is repeating his most explosive immigration rhetoric during the family separation crisis

“Turned out I was 100 percent right. That’s why I got elected.”

Trump Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Dylan Scott covers health care for Vox. He has reported on health policy for more than 10 years, writing for Governing magazine, Talking Points Memo and STAT before joining Vox in 2017.

Amid a family separation crisis that has featured children taken away from their parents by federal authorities after an unauthorized border crossing and held in cage-like rooms, President Donald Trump wanted a small-business group to know: He was “100 percent right” when he said in 2015 that the people coming illegally across the US-Mexico border were mostly rapists and drug dealers.

The president was ostensibly speaking to the National Federation of Independent Businesses about small business. But he began his remarks with more than 20 minutes on immigration. US authorities have separated at least 2,000 children from their families at the border in recent weeks, with no end in sight. Trump continued to falsely claim this was a policy foisted upon him by Democrats and falsely repeated that Congress had to act in order to stop it.

But his most jarring comment, as he seemed to veer further and further off script, was a return to the notorious statement he made in 2015 when he announced he was running for president: that Mexico (and presumably other countries) was “not sending their best” to the United States. In fact, he continued then, “they’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

On Tuesday, even as Republicans in Congress beg the White House to stop family separation and photos and audio of sobbing children at US detention centers flood the internet, Trump repeated this claim yet again.

“They’re sending not their finest. Does that sound familiar? Remember I made that speech and I was so badly criticized?” Trump told the NFIB crowd. “Turned out I was 100 percent right. That’s why I got elected.”

The president continued to allege that “child smugglers” were taking advantage of the system, using children to avoid prosecution at the border. He also claimed that Democrats “love open borders” because they view the people coming into the country as potential voters.

At one point, Trump made an offhand promise to cut foreign aid to the countries where people trying to enter the United States illegally were coming from.

“When countries abuse us by sending their people up, not their best, we’re not gonna give any more aid to those countries,” he said. “Why the hell should we? Why should we?”

Trump is blaming Congress for the crisis — but mocking a plan that would help solve it

Later, Trump seemed to torpedo a proposal to end the family separation crisis from one of the most conservative members of the Senate, Ted Cruz of Texas. Cruz has put forward a plan that would halt family separation while also increasing the number of federal judges who can hear the cases of asylum seekers, in the hopes of speeding up the legal process that keeps people detained.

But Trump, extensively and derisively, laughed off the idea of expanding the immigration courts as part of a plan to end the crisis. He asserted that lawyers for asylum seekers coach their clients on what to say so they’ll be allowed to stay in the United States.

“We have to have a real border, not judges,” Trump said. “I don’t want to try people. I don’t want people coming in.”

The Trump administration has come under fire from humanitarian groups, Democrats, and even many Republicans as the border crisis has become the biggest story in the country. But there is a belief among senior White House officials, including longtime adviser Stephen Miller, that fostering this controversy is a winning strategy for them and that it will galvanize conservative voters ahead of the November elections, as Politico reported.

And so at the same time that Trump wrongly claims Congress must act in order for family separation to end, he doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to actually agree with a plan that would do the job.