The Republican presidential nominee's remark, which he made without presenting extensive evidence, came during a roundtable discussion on border security held on the 25th floor of Trump Tower.
Art Del Cueto, the national vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, the union that represents Border Patrol agents, told Trump that agents were given instructions not to deport illegal immigrants with criminal records. The Obama administration has focused on targeting illegal immigrants who have committed felonies for deportation.
“I spoke to several agents in my sector who are in charge of processing,” said Del Cueto. "And the problem that we’re seeing reflected through us as a voice is that some of these individuals that we're apprehended with criminal records, they’re not, they’re checking their records, they see that they have criminal records, but they’re setting them aside because at this point they are saying immigration is 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.”
“So they can go ahead and vote before the election," Del Cueto responded.
Trump replied: “Big statement, fellas.” He motioned to the small group of reporters who were covering the event. After some crosstalk, he continued: “You’re not going to write it. That’s huge. But they’re letting people pour into the country so they can go and vote.”
Added Del Cueto: “They want to hurry up and fast-track them so they can go ahead and vote in the election.”
Trump chimed in again, saying, "And these are the professionals. You hear a thing like that, and it’s a disgrace. Well, it will be a lot different if I get elected."
The National Border Patrol Council supports Trump. The group's spokesman, Shawn Moran, did not immediately respond to an email and voice mail seeking further clarity on whether Del Cueto's comments reflect the official position of the organization.
In a written statement posted on the National Border Patrol Council's web site under the heading, "Clarification to Statements Made During Trump Press Conference," the group said it "has an internal email from the United States Citizen and Immigration Service (USCIS) showing that extra overtime is being provided to employees to process as many applications for citizenship as possible prior to November 8."
It added: "The NBPC also has text messages from upper level managers telling us that criminal prosecution cases are being put on hold in order for judges to adjudicate these applications. Historically, we have seen criminal background checks curtailed in situations like this, thus allowing some criminals to gain United States citizenship."
In a statement, Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Marsha Catron said: “As Secretary Johnson has stated repeatedly, our borders are not open to illegal migration. We must and we will enforce the law in accordance with our enforcement priorities. Our actions reflect that commitment."