President Donald Trump likened immigration enforcement to war, claiming that deporting illegal immigrants is like "liberating a town" in combat. Picture: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. - President Donald Trump likened federal immigration enforcement to war on Tuesday, claiming that the work of deporting illegal immigrants is like "liberating a town or an area" in combat.

In a meandering speech meant to honour the active-duty military and veterans, Trump also likened professional golfers to "tough" US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, as he continued an attack on Democrats who have called for the agency's abolition.

"We respect ICE. You know, ICE is the one handling tough people," Trump said at a dinner staged as part of a PGA tournament and attended by several players.

"But when these people come into our country and come in illegally, and then they are dispersed throughout the country, and then all of a sudden you see nests of MS-13, you know, it's like you're liberating towns," Trump said, referring to a mostly Hispanic gang.

"We send ICE in. And for ICE, it's just another day, like Phil, and John, and Keegan, all of the guys, and Bubba, like when they play golf," Trump said.

He was referring to PGA players Phil Mickelson, John Daly, Keegan Bradley and Bubba Watson, who were in the audience.

"These guys, they walk into those areas, they take 'em out of there so fast. They're not afraid of anything. It is, it's like you're liberating a town, like in a war," Trump continued.

"You're liberating a town or an area, and ICE goes in there, and they go in there, and sometimes they have to go in swinging. They don't mind. They're tough. And then I hear Democrats saying, 'We want to abandon ICE. We want to abandon.' " Trump said." We're not abandoning ICE, and we're not abandoning law enforcement."

Trump drew applause when he told the crowd that his forthcoming Supreme Court nominee will be a "home run." He plans an announcement Monday of his choice to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., is one of three red-state Democrats who voted last year to confirm Trump's first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, and who Republicans hope will support this nominee.

West Virginia's other US senator, Republican Shelley Moore Capito, was among officials on hand to meet Trump when he landed in nearby Lewisburg, along with state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who is running against Manchin this year.

The "Salute to Service" dinner was part of a PGA golf tournament billed as "A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier." The tournament was formerly known as the Greenbrier Classic.

The historic mountain resort is owned by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a coal mining executive and Trump ally who introduced Trump as "the guy, the man, the man, that has done more for this country than anyone could ever imagine."

Trump told the crowd that the governor had asked him to speak and that he accepted in part because Justice, elected in 2016 as a Democrat, switched to the Republican Party last year.

Justice was previously registered as a Republican until 2015.

Trump won West Virginia by 42 points over Democrat Hillary Clinton, a fact he mentioned approximately 30 seconds into remarks that veered far from a script about honoring military service and providing services to veterans.

Trump, an avid golfer, indulged his inner fan with asides about the merits of one golfer's putter and the length of another's drives.

"I love this state, which I happened to win by 42 points over a Democrat. Forty-two points! It's like one of these genius golfers winning by 9. You know, it's like the same thing."

The Washington Post