Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is boldly declaring the latest surge of illegals crossing the U.S. southern border in recent weeks is a direct result of his vow to build an impenetrable wall, prompting immigrants to try and secure last-minute amnesty ahead of the November election.
"They are surging across the border because a lot of people are thinking we're going to win and then they're not going to be able to come into the country, and they happen to be right, we're going to have strong borders," Trump told Circa in an interview Tuesday afternoon as he campaigned across Virginia.
In San Diego Border Patrol agents apprehended nearly 26,000 people from Oct. 1, 2015, through July 31, a 15 percent increase from last years numbers, which totaled 22,448.
In the Rio Grande Valley, which had the most apprehensions of all nine border patrol sectors along the southwest, more than 147,200 were apprehended last year, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data.
Front-line Border Patrol agents agree with Trump. They say hundreds of immigrants they have captured in recent days have cited Trump's wall as the reason for their illegal crossings.
"People are pouring in because they're afraid Trump is going to build a wall and stop any plans for amnesty. That's what they tell us when they're questioned," Border Patrol Agent Chris Cabrera, who represents the National Border Patrol Council's Local 3307 in the Rio Grande Valley sector, told Circa.
Cabrera said last week more than 2,400 people were apprehended crossing the border illegally near Rio Grande Valley in Texas over just two nights, and the Obama administration allowed most to be released into the United States on a promise they'll appear for a future court hearing.
"Nothing's changed and we're still letting people in with the hope they'll appear in court, knowing the majority of them will never appear and they'll disappear into our system," Cabrera said.
"It's definitely a national security risk, not every bad guy or terrorist is going to be in our system and we just don't know who they are," said Cabrera, whose sector garnered national media attention in 2014 when more than 50,000 illegal immigrants crossed in the first half of that year, a majority of which were children who believed they would not be deported by the Obama administration if they reunited with family living in the U.S.
Border Patrol officials in Washington did not immediately return calls seeking comment or to answer questions whether the surge in the Rio Grande Valley is representative of other sectors along the southwest border.
Embracing new polls showing him leading the race and fresh endorsements from 88 retired generals and admirals, Trump focused his campaign efforts Tuesday in Virginia Beach heavily on national security issues and immigration. He fielded questions in front of a packed auditorium from retired Gen. Michael Flynn, the former chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency and now an adviser to the Trump campaign.
Beforehand, he talked to Circa, saying none of the current 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States would get amnesty if he is elected but his plan for deportations begins with those illegals who have committed violent crimes.
"We have all these drug lords and we have the gangs and we have all of these people that are here illegally, totally illegally," he said in the interview. "Day one, first hour, I'm going to issue an order that they're going out. And the local police know who all of them are. They are going to get out of this country. They are causing tremendous problems with drugs and crime and everything else."
New polls show Trump has closed a large gap with Hillary Clinton, moving into a virtual tie or even leading his Democratic rival by a few points. During his interview, he credited his rise in the polls to staying focused on immigration, rebuilding the military and creating job growth.
"I think we've had a really good month. It's been very strong with the stopping of illegal immigration. It's been very, very important to people in the country. You have to see that and you know, when you think that Hillary Clinton wants to have 550 percent increase in Syrian refugees coming across the border and flying into the country and coming in, people are not standing for it. So I think that's been very, very good.
"Our view on the military building up our very depleted military is very important, and I think the biggest thing of all is jobs. We're going to bring jobs back to our country. These countries are stealing our jobs whether it's Mexico or China, which makes all of the products and then sends it here and all of our people lose their jobs. I think jobs is a very, very big factor as to why I am now leading," he answered.
Trump also addressed other national security issues, saying the Clinton and Obama policies destabilized the Middle East and left Afghanistan abandoned.
He said the Obama administration's failure to work out a deal with Russia over the weekend on the crisis in Syria has been exacerbated by Obama's failure to build a strong relationship Russian President Vladimir Putin, who distrusts the administration.
"Putin does not respect Obama what-so-ever, there's no respect for him what-so-ever and that's been known for a long period of time," said Trump, who noted the complexity of the war in the region and Russia's involvement. "As far as Syria is concerned before we worry about Syria we ought to worry about ISIS and knock the hell out of ISIS."
Clinton also focused on national security during a rally in Florida Tuesday, arguing Trump would lead America back to war in the Middle East, didn't respect veterans and would create a more dangerous world.
"His whole campaign has been one long insult to all those who have worn the uniform," said Clinton, at the University of South Florida. She was referencing Trump's tangle with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Muslim parents, whose son was killed while serving in Iraq.