Protesters in Arizona briefly blocked access to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s rally Saturday morning in Arizona, kicking off a full day of campaign events in the border state, which holds key primaries Tuesday.
The protesters blocked a highway leading to Trump’s outdoor rally in Fountain Hills, Arizona, near Scottsdale, before sheriff's deputies removed them and towed their vehicles.
“We’re not going to let demonstrators intimidate this forum and this sheriff. Now we’re going to have a nice, nice rally for Donald Trump,” said Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who led the effort to remove the demonstrators and who has endorsed the GOP front-runner.
Arizona has long been ground-zero for the politically-charged illegal immigration debate, with roughly 368 miles of border with Mexico and more border fence than any other state.
Roughly 30 percent of Arizona’s population is Hispanic. And in 2010, the state passed one of the strictest anti-immigration laws in American history.
“So much crime and drugs passing through the border. You know what? We’re going to build a wall, and we’re going to stop it,” Trump said at the rally, returning to his early and oft-repeated campaign promise to build a wall along the southern border and have Mexico pay for it.
Arpaio – the self-described “America’s toughest sheriff” – said at least 10,000 people were kept waiting in the Arizona heat for about an hour as a result of the roadblock, which resulted in three arrests.
Trump supporters and protesters exchanged words at the rally, but there were no initial reports of physical violence.
Trump, who early in his campaign visited the border, leads the GOP field in Arizona with 34 percent of the vote, followed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at 21 percent and Ohio Gov. John Kasich at 13 percent.
Trump held a larger rally later Saturday at the Phoenix Convention Center.
Trump said protesters at his rally are "taking away our First Amendment rights" and vowed to take the country back if he's elected president.
He called one protester at his Phoenix rally, who wore the Klu Klux Klan hood, "disgusting." Another group, carrying a "Black Lives Matter" sign were also kicked out.
The rallies and protest follow a local border patrol union of Friday supporting Trump.
Local 2544 said Trump asked for the endorsement and that officials responded by saying he is the only 2016 White House candidate to “publicly expressed his support” of the Border Patrol’s mission and it agents and that he has been “an outspoken candidate” on the need for a secure border.
However, Art Del Cueto, president of the Tucson-based union, made clear that he would adhere to the larger National Border Patrol Council’s practice of not endorsing presidential candidates.
The Supreme Court later upheld the most controversial part of Arizona’s 2010 law -- commonly referred to S.B. 1070 and that allows police to try to determine the immigration status of anybody arrested or detained if they have “reasonable suspicion” the suspect is in the U.S. illegally.
However, the law also sparked widespread opposition including businesses threatening to leave the state.
Trump and Cruz essentially call for those living illegally in the United States to return to their home country, while Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders want to allow them to stay.
Several thousand miles away in New York, demonstrators also took to the streets to protest the Republican presidential hopeful.
The protesters gathered Saturday in Manhattan's Columbus Circle, across from Central Park, with a heavy police presence. Demonstrators chanted: "Donald Trump, go away, racist, sexist, anti-gay."
They marched across south Central Park to Trump Tower, the Fifth Avenue skyscraper where Trump lives. Then they marched back to Columbus Circle for a rally.