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story.lead_photo.caption Vice President Mike Pence (right) greets members of Homeland Security during an event to sa- lute U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents Monday in the East Room of the White House in Washington.

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump sharply accused congressional Democrats of allowing open borders and crime to fester, using a White House event Monday to stoke a fall campaign fight over immigration and the U.S. southern border.

Predicting that Republicans would do "very well in the midterms," Trump said at an event paying tribute to federal immigration officials that immigration would be a potent issue separating the two parties in the November elections.

"I think we're going to have much more of a red wave than what you're going to see as a phony blue wave," Trump said in the East Room. "Blue wave means crime, it means open borders. Not good."

The president honored employees of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, calling agents to the podium to note their achievements in addressing unlawful border crossings and stemming the flow of illicit drugs.

During the event, he referred to CBP as the "CBC," an abbreviation for the Congressional Black Caucus. He also congratulated the work of border agent Adrian Anzaldua on a smuggling bust in Laredo, Texas, inviting him to make some impromptu remarks. Trump said, "You're not nervous -- speaks perfect English."

Trump's hard-line rhetoric underscored the White House's interest in making immigration a defining issue in the fall elections as Democrats seek the 23 seats they need to retake the majority in the House and to overcome the Republicans' narrow majority in the Senate.

Trump said "step by step" he was building his signature border wall -- a staple of his 2016 campaign -- but expressed unhappiness with congressional Democrats who have opposed his plan. The president complained of "a coalition of open borders extremists and to me that means crime, people that don't mind crime. They mind it when it happens to them, they don't mind it when they have to watch it on television."

In a letter to state and local leaders, Trump did not single out Democrats by name. But he implicitly took aim at what has become a widespread talking point among lawmakers who oppose his immigration agenda, particularly the zero-tolerance policy that has led to the separation of migrant children from their parents. Those legislators have become increasingly vocal in recent days in calling for an overhaul of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency charged with deporting immigrants facing removal.

"Tragically, the brave men and women of ICE have recently been subjected to a nationwide campaign of smears, insults and attacks by politicians shamelessly catering to the extreme elements in our society that desire lawlessness and anarchy," Trump wrote.

He called the "Abolish ICE" movement "a movement to abolish our borders entirely."

"Abolishing ICE effectively means no enforcement, no deportations and no borders -- and would result in massive crime, huge loss of life, colossal economic hardship for American workers and lawless anarchy," Trump wrote.

In his letter, he also called on state and local officials to cooperate with federal immigration authorities "in removing dangerous criminal aliens from our communities." It was Trump's latest effort to target sanctuary cities, jurisdictions whose leaders have declined to work with immigration agents to round up and deport unauthorized immigrants.

[U.S. immigration: Data visualization of selected immigration statistics, U.S. border map]

While some Democrats in the House and Senate have raised the prospect of eliminating ICE, no top Democrats in the House or Senate have called for such a move. Democrats have blasted Trump's immigration policies along the border, saying they wrongly separate families.

"More than 500 children remain separated from their families as a result of Trump's anti-immigrant agenda. Instead of addressing this humanitarian crisis that he himself created, Trump continues to ignore the lives he has destroyed and communities he has upended," said Democratic National Committee spokesman Adrienne Watson.

Trump has made border security a key part of his message as he tries to maintain Republican control of Congress.

Before the president arrived Monday, the White House held a panel discussion on immigration with several state and local officials, who pointed to the role that a secure border plays in the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking and questioned calls to abolish ICE.

Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., who has worked closely with the administration on immigration legislation, said he struggled to see the point of eliminating the federal agency, likening it to someone saying, "I want to get rid of the Marines."

"I just think it's unconscionable, and frankly, I think it's downright unpatriotic and treasonous," Perdue said.

Information for this article was contributed by Ken Thomas of The Associated Press, and by Julie Hirschfeld Davis of The New York Times.

President Donald Trump recognizes Customs and Border Protection agent Adrian Anzaldua during an event to salute U.S. Im- migration and Customs Enforcement officers and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents Monday in the East Room of the White House in Washington.

A Section on 08/21/2018

Print Headline: Trump paints immigration as midterm key

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