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Trump: Women crossing border 'raped at levels nobody has ever seen before'

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump renews attacks against Tester over VA nominee on eve of Montana rally Trump submits 2017 federal income tax returns Corker: Trump administration 'clamped down' on Saudi intel, canceled briefing MORE claimed on Thursday that women emigrating from Central America to the U.S. are "raped at levels nobody's ever seen before," hearkening back to his controversial 2015 campaign announcement, in which he called some immigrants "rapists"

"Remember my opening remarks at Trump Tower, when I opened, everybody said, 'oh, he was so tough.' And I used the word 'rape,' " Trump said at a roundtable event Thursday in West Virginia, referring to his 2015 speech announcing his presidential run. "And yesterday it came out where this journey coming up, women are raped at levels that nobody's ever seen before. They don't want to mention that."

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Trump has warned in recent days of a "caravan" of Central American migrants heading toward the U.S.-Mexico border. That caravan stalled in Mexico City on Wednesday, with organizers saying that the number of people made it too difficult to continue.

Trump's comments on Thursday were his latest decrying illegal border crossings and calling for tougher immigration laws.

He has ramped up his rhetoric on the matter in recent days, announcing that he had closed the door on a deal with lawmakers on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and would send U.S. troops to the southern border.

In his remarks in West Virginia on Thursday, Trump also criticized the so-called visa lottery, saying that countries aren't "putting their good ones" into the the program. That comment appeared to echo part of his 2015 campaign announcement, in which he said Mexico was not "sending its best people" to the U.S. 

Trump’s off-script remarks touched on so-called sanctuary cities, as well. He said such jurisdictions, which do not fully cooperate with federal immigration officials, are intended to protect “bad people.” Trump then pointed to the case of a Kate Steinle, a 32-year-old woman who was shot and killed by an immigrant in the country illegally in California in 2015.

“Sanctuary cities — it’s the worst,” Trump said. “It’s basically a city to protect a lot of people that are bad people. Really bad.”

The Trump administration sued California last month over the state’s so-called sanctuary laws, which Justice Department officials argue impede federal immigration agents from doing their jobs.