WASHINGTON ― Donald Trump is accusing the government of letting undocumented immigrants “pour into the country so they can go and vote” in November ― the latest conspiracy theory the Republican presidential nominee is perpetuating to delegitimize the election.
“You hear a thing like that, and it’s a disgrace,” Trump told members of the National Border Patrol Council, a union that has endorsed him, at Trump Tower in New York on Friday. “Well, it will be a lot different if I get elected.”
Trump was responding to a comment from the union’s vice president, Art Del Cueto, who said immigration agents are setting aside criminal background checks because they’re “so tied up with trying to get the people who are on the waiting list to hurry up and get them their immigration status corrected.”
“They want to hurry up and fast track them so they can go ahead and vote in the election,” Del Cueto explained, apparently referring to immigrants who are waiting to become naturalized U.S. citizens.
But naturalization is a wholly separate issue from illegal border crossings. And the idea that unauthorized immigrants will pour into the country to vote is flawed for a few reasons: For one, undocumented immigrants are not allowed to vote. Also, it takes about five years to become a U.S. citizen after obtaining a green card. And while conservatives have long accused undocumented immigrants of committing voter fraud, a 2013 report found that that very rarely happens.
It’s also true that a large number of green card-holders are applying for citizenship this year ― some of them in hopes of voting against Trump ― but it is legal for them to do so. Some Republicans have accused the Obama administration of trying to speed up approval of those applications ahead of the election. Groups that encourage immigrants to naturalize and vote say the opposite is happening, and that a backlog could prevent some applications from being processed in time.
The National Border Patrol Council has been very critical of the Obama administration for not being sufficiently committed to deportations. Last year, the group falsely accused the president of “threatening” border patrol agents to implement his executive actions on immigration.
Trump, meanwhile, has complained numerous times that the presidential election is “rigged” against him, including during the GOP primaries. After courts struck down voter ID laws as discriminatory in August, he said he expected a lot of voter fraud to occur in November.
“People are going to walk in there, they’re going to vote 10 times, maybe. Who knows? They’re going to vote 10 times,” he said.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters he had not seen Trump’s comments accusing undocumented immigrants of coming to the U.S. to vote, according to a pool report. “I have no idea what he would use to back those up,” he said.
In a statement, Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Marsha Catron did not address Trump’s meeting with border patrol union members directly, but stressed that “our borders are not open to illegal immigration” and outlined the legal requirements immigrants must meet before voting in an election.
“Under federal law, an individual must be a U.S. citizen either by birth or naturalization to vote in a federal election in the United States,” Catron said. “If a foreign national seeks to naturalize, he or she would need to meet many requirements before doing so, generally including residing in the United States as a lawful permanent resident for at least 5 years.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection declined to comment on Trump’s statement.
Cristian Farias and Elise Foley contributed reporting.
This story has been updated with comment from Eric Schultz and Marsha Catron.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims ― 1.6 billion members of an entire religion ― from entering the U.S.