President Donald Trump, left, greets Customs and Border Patrol agent Adrian Anzaldua, during an event to salute U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Aug. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON – With an eye toward the midterm elections, President Donald Trump saluted federal immigration enforcement officials Monday, recognizing “heroes” who saved lives, made their communities safer and, in the case of four Border Patrol agents, fell in the line of duty.

In his remarks, the president reminded centrist voters that key Democrats say they want to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He also repeated a claim that Democrats support open borders.

“I think we’re going to have much more of a red wave than you’re going to see as a phony blue wave,” Trump said. “Blue wave means crime. It means open borders.”

Before the event, the White House released a letter in which the president exhorted state and local leaders to stand behind ICE and the Border Patrol.

“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 of our society,” Trump wrote.

In addition to hitting Democrats who support calls to abolish ICE, the president embraced positions he voiced during the 2016 campaign – a wall along the border with Mexico, an end to sanctuary cities, and tougher enforcement to staunch the flow of illegal drugs and keep members of gangs like MS-13 from crossing the border.

The salute did not proceed without hitches. Trump got the abbreviation for Customs and Border Protection wrong – he repeatedly called it CBC.

Also, Trump introduced Bureau Patrol Agent Adrian Anzaldua, who recently apprehended a human smuggler with some 78 people locked in his refrigerated tractor trailer in Laredo, Texas, with an aside that he “speaks perfect English.”

If it bothered those in the room, however, they failed to show it. Instead, rows of uniformed officers responded to Trump’s message with prolonged and enthusiastic applause.

“You’re incredible people. You do an unbelievable job. You’re not appreciated enough,” Trump told the room.

“Everyone here today understands a vital truth: that America is a land of opportunity because we are a nation of laws,” Trump said. “For America to be a strong nation, we must have strong borders.”

Trump has made border security a key part of his message as he tries to maintain Republican control of Congress. Democrats need to flip 23 seats to retake the majority in the House.

“It’s sort of a last ditch chance to avoid what appears to be an apparent thumping for him and Republicans this November,” Democratic pollster Paul Maslin said,.

“He’s creating a straw man,” Maslin added, as most Democrats do not support calls to abolish ICE.

The #abolishICE movement gained steam in July after Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat a long-term incumbent in a blue district in the Bronx. Ocasio-Cortez had supported calls to abolish the agency. Progressive Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York – both potential 2020 presidential contenders – expressed support for the idea.

Trump described those who would eliminate ICE as “a small group that gets a lot of publicity because they have no courage, they have no guts. They just have big, loud mouths.”

Republican strategist and CNN contributor Alice Stewart sees Trump staying true to a constant campaign theme and “stressing the point that a blue wave means open borders. That will energize not only his base, but it sends a message to undecideds that the Democrats will have open borders and in the president’s mind, increase crime, drugs and gang activity.”

Midterm elections, Stewart added, are all about energizing voters, which this issue could do.

Jessica Vaughan of the pro-enforcement Center for Immigration Studies noted the event comes at a time when “all those agencies have been vilified by anti-border activists.”

During his remarks, Trump singled out Portland, Oregon, where Mayor Ted Wheeler refused to help clear an Occupy ICE protest that effectively shut down an ICE building for more than a week in June. Federal authorities had to clear the area.

Trump also took a swipe at House Democrats, 133 of whom voted present rather than vote for or against a resolution in support of ICE in July. The measure passed with 244 votes, with all but 18 of the yes votes cast by Republicans.

This month, police arrested a Massachusetts man who tweeted an offer of $500 to “anyone who would kill” an ICE agent.

“And they’re already in danger from criminals they deal with every day,” Vaughan said.

Debra J. Saunders at or. Follow on Twitter.

Four fallen Border Patrol agents

President Donald Trump paid tribute Monday to four fallen Border Patrol agents:

  • Luis Aguilar, killed Jan. 19, 2008 when a suspected smuggler drove a Hummer into Aguilar’s vehicle.
  • Nicolas Ivie, killed Oct. 2, 2012 by friendly fire.
  • Rogelio Martinez , died Nov. 19, 2017 of wounds endured in the line of duty.
  • Brian Terry, died Dec. 14, 2010 from a round fired by a suspect armed with an AK-47.