LOS ANGELES » Flanked by family members of people who said their relatives had been killed in the United States by immigrants who are in the country illegally, Donald Trump refused to back down from his remarks that Mexican criminals are flowing into the United States without legal permission.
"It was stated as fact," he said. "I know it’s not pleasant, but it was stated as fact."
He repeatedly pointed his hand at a room full of journalists at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills and accused the media of distorting his words.
"You know who they’re sending," he said. "The problem is you’ll cut this statement in half."
The Republican presidential candidate was surrounded by men and women whose children were killed in crimes and traffic accidents. They held banners with each victim’s name, their photograph and the age at which they died. Many wept as Trump spoke.
"The illegals come in and the illegals killed their children," he said. "And we better get smart in the United States."
The meeting in Los Angeles came as Trump has faced ongoing backlash over comments in his nomination speech. In the speech, Trump said some Mexican immigrants to the U.S. bring drugs and crime, and some are rapists. NBC, Univision, Macy’s department store and others have since canceled partnerships with Trump, calling his words offensive.
On Friday, he accused Macy’s and NBC of having "no guts."
He also compared the influx of Mexican immigrants into the United States to former Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s 1980 decision to temporarily lift restrictions preventing people from fleeing the Caribbean country. More than 125,000 left, among them people from the nation’s prisons and insane asylums.
"In a much more sophisticated manner, Mexico is doing the same thing," he said.
Trump was invited to speak later in Los Angeles by Friends of Abe, a group founded by actor Gary Sinise for conservatives in the entertainment industry. The group said it invited Trump to speak to its members before he announced his candidacy and expected the event to go on.
"We don’t make endorsements, and we don’t raise money for any candidates. Period. We invited Mr. Trump for the same reason we invite all of our guests, which is to hear directly from him, free from editing or editorializing by the media, and decide for ourselves what he believes and stands for," executive director Jeremy Boreing said in a statement.
Boreing declined to say how many members would attend Trump’s speech, but he noted that Sinise will not be there.
A Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel spokesman said the venue doesn’t interfere with groups that book speakers there.
Among the families Trump met with were relatives of Jamiel Shaw Jr., a 17-year-old star athlete who was killed by an immigrant who had been brought to the U.S. illegally as a young child.
Speaking with the press after they met, Trump asked Shaw’s father if his remarks about Mexican immigrants were racist.
"No, it’s not racist," said Jamiel Shaw. "He’s speaking for the dead. He’s speaking for my son."
Trump’s meeting with the families took place days after a San Francisco shooting in which an immigrant living in the country illegally had been charged with killing 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle, who was out walking with her father. The killing has brought criticism because Francisco Sanchez had been deported repeatedly and was on the streets after San Francisco officials disregarded a request from federal immigration authorities to keep him in custody.
About 200 people gathered outside the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel, some in support of Trump and others demonstrating against him. Many waved U.S. flags and held signs reading "Stop Illegal Immigration" and "Dump Trump."
Jeff Byers, 42, a Republican from Los Angeles, said he hadn’t yet decided if he’d vote for Trump but agreed with his comments on immigration.
"I support his free speech and his comments," he said. "In my opinion, it was the truth."
Jorge-Mario Cabrera, a spokesman for the CHIRLA Action Fund, a group demonstrating against Trump’s speech Friday evening, said his group doesn’t plan to protest Trump’s meeting with the families of crime victims, but it did see the decision as "a continuation of the hate rhetoric."
"He has painted all immigrants, all Mexicans, all Latinos, with a very broad brush," Cabrera said. "It’s very unfortunate."