Donald Trump brought his message of walls and deportations to the doorstep of the US’ busiest border crossing on Friday as the US Republican presidential hopeful greeted supporters in San Diego, amid one of the largest protests organized against him.
The scene inside the San Diego Convention Center during Trump’s speech was relatively placid, while outside demonstrators opposed to his controversy-ridden White House bid marched and chanted, carrying signs criticizing his rhetoric against illegal immigration.
Waving US and Mexican flags, more than 1,000 people turned out for anti-Trump rallies in San Diego, a city on the US-Mexico border whose San Ysidro port of entry sees nearly 300,000 people per day cross legally between the countries.
San Diego is considered a binational city by many who live and work on opposite sides of the border, and about one-third of the city’s population is Latino.
During Trump’s speech, some protesters outside the convention center scaled a barrier and lobbed water bottles at police. One man was pulled off the wall and arrested as others were surrounded by fellow protesters and backed away from the confrontation.
After the convention center emptied, clusters of Trump supporters and anti-Trump demonstrators began to mix in the streets, many exchanging shouted epithets and some throwing water bottles at one another.
Police in riot gear declared the gathering an unlawful assembly and ordered the crowd to disperse, herding the crowd out of the city’s hotel and restaurant-filled Gaslamp Quarter.
Police reported making more than a dozen arrests during the hour following the department’s order to disperse.
“Fantastic job on handling the thugs who tried to disrupt our very peaceful and well attended rally,” Trump said on Twitter to the San Diego Police Department after the event.
Trump has weathered months of blowback from all ends of the political spectrum for his immigration policy, which calls for the building of a wall along the US-Mexico border and deporting the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants who reside in the US.
Critics have said that Trump’s plan is needlessly cruel and impossible to implement. At Trump’s campaign stops, attendees often chant “build the wall.”
While Trump is running unopposed in the June 7 California Republican primary, his stance on border control and deportation seems unlikely to resonate with the electorate at large in a state where political fallout from a Republican-backed crackdown on illegal immigrants 20 years ago cost the party dearly.
Friday was not the first time Trump has been greeted by civil unrest in California, which is home to the largest Latino population in the country. Late last month, a visit to the California Republican convention set off days of protests in the area, leading to several arrests.
Shortly before taking the stage in San Diego, Trump issued a statement ruling out a one-on-one debate with second-placed US Democratic hopeful, US Senator Bernie Sanders, who was also in California, killing off a potentially high-ratings TV spectacle.
The suggested debate, an idea first raised during a talk show appearance by the New York billionaire, would have sidelined Democratic hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton, but given Sanders a huge platform ahead of California Democratic primary.
A day after saying he would welcome a Sanders debate, Trump called the idea “inappropriate,” declaring that he should only face the Democrats’ final choice.
“I will wait to debate the first-place finisher in the Democratic Party, probably crooked Hillary Clinton,” Trump said in a statement.
Sanders expressed disappointment on Friday, and sought to goad Trump into reconsidering.
“Well, Mr. Trump, what are you afraid of?” he said in a video clip posted on ABC News’ Twitter account.
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