BEAUMONT — Linking Friday's massacre in Paris to President Obama’s plan to accept Syrian refugees, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump told a cheering Southeast Texas crowd Saturday that U.S. immigration policy is lax on several fronts and that letting in Syrian refugees would pose a serious security risk.
“Our president wants to take in 250,000 from Syria,” said Trump, noting early reports that one of the Paris attackers might have been from Syria. “We all have heart, and we all want people taken care of and all that, but some of them are going to have problems, big problems.
"You’d have to be insane” to allow so many refugees to come to the U.S., he added.
Speaking to a crowd of several thousand at Ford Arena, Trump also criticized France’s strict gun control policies and said he felt they contributed to the scale of the attack in Paris. According to The Associated Press, the death toll was at least 129 as of Saturday morning.
“When you look at Paris, you know, the toughest gun laws in the world, nobody had guns except for the bad guys, nobody,” Trump said. “I’ll tell you what, you can say what you want, but if they had guns — if our people had guns — if they were allowed to carry, it would have been a much, much different situation.”
Trump has been the Republican front-runner in national polls for several months. In Texas, the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll shows Trump drawing the support of 27 percent of likely Republican voters — tied in a dead heat with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
In Saturday's speech, which lasted just over an hour, Trump focused primarily on immigration issues, reaffirming his commitment to building an impenetrable wall between the U.S. and Mexico — a wall which, he insisted, “they’re going to pay for.”
“It’s going to look beautiful,” he said. “They’ll probably call it the Trump wall in the future.”
The rally marked Trump’s third Texas visit since he launched his campaign in June. In July, he visited Laredo in a much-publicized stop along the Texas-Mexico border. During the Saturday speech, Trump cited his Laredo trip and said he was convinced that federal Border Patrol agents weren’t being allowed to do their job.
“They’re told to stand down — these people are walking right through, and they’re standing down, they’re holding their weapons,” Trump said.
Many of the attendees at the speech cited Trump’s position on immigration as one of the most compelling aspects of his candidacy.
Alma Cantu, a Trump supporter from Groves, said she arrived at 6:30 a.m. for the speech, which began shortly after noon.
"His immigration policy is just absolutely right — the borders do need to be secure,” Cantu said. "It’s just, you know, you see what’s happening in Syria, and they don’t even know if there are ISIS people coming in here. I really feel for the people that are trying to make their life better, but all they have to do is go through the proper procedure.”
Cantu said she believes Trump’s rhetorical style — often inflammatory — is a sign that he’s being honest about his plans.
“I think a lot of people think he’s rude, but he’s telling the truth, he’s honest in what he says, and I think if this country’s going to turn around, it needs to be with someone like that,” she said.
Trump’s willingness to take controversial positions is one of his selling points as a candidate, according to Charlene Moorer of Beaumont.
“I think Donald Trump has given people an outlet to vent their frustration about the way things are going,” Moorer said. “He’s saying things that everybody thinks, but does not want to say, for fear of being politically incorrect."
Trump is working to grow his crowd of supporters in Texas. In September, Trump drew a crowd of thousands at American Airlines Center in Dallas. And last month, he hired an Austin-based operative to lead his statewide operations. Trump was among the first GOP candidates to hire a Texas state director in this campaign cycle.