NEW YORK (AP) — A Univision network is dropping the Miss USA pageant and the company says it will cut all business ties with Donald Trump in a spiraling controversy over comments the Republican presidential candidate made recently about Mexican immigrants.
Univision said Thursday it would pull the plug on its Spanish-language coverage of the pageant July 12 by its UniMas network. It also has severed its business relationship with the Miss Universe Organization, which produces the Miss USA pageant, due to what it called "insulting remarks about Mexican immigrants" by Trump, a part owner of Miss Universe.
During his presidential campaign kickoff speech last week, Trump portrayed immigrants from Mexico as "bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists, and some, I assume, are good people." He also called for building a wall along the southern border of the U.S. The remarks drew condemnation from the Mexican government as "biased and absurd."
NBC is scheduled to air its own pageant coverage, as it has done since 2003, and has remained silent about the broadcast. But in a statement Thursday, the network sought to separate itself from Trump's remarks.
"Donald Trump's opinions do not represent those of NBC, and we do not agree with his positions on a number of issues, including his recent comments on immigration," NBC said.
Trump is part of another NBC program, "Celebrity Apprentice."
In an interview Thursday, Trump said his criticism was directed against U.S. policymakers, not the Mexican people or government, adding that Univision would be defaulting on its contract if it doesn't air the pageant and he would take legal action.
"At Univision, we see firsthand the work ethic, love for family, strong religious values and the important role Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans have had and will continue to have in building the future of our country," said the New York-based Univision Communications Inc.
Both co-hosts of the UniMas telecast also pulled out Thursday, while Colombian singer J Balvin on Wednesday canceled a planned performance at the pageant.
"The only thing I could do as a person, not only as an artist, but as a Latino that I am, was to cancel my show immediately," he told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Trump said Univision is submitting to pressure from Mexican leaders to punish him for positions he voices as a candidate on the campaign trail.
"They don't want me saying that Mexico is killing the United States in trade and killing the United States at the border," Trump said. "Univision is totally laying down for the Mexican government. ... They want to silence Donald Trump. And Donald Trump can't be silenced. ... I have great respect for Mexico and I love the Mexican people, but my loyalty is to the United States."
Univision declined to comment on Trump's remarks. The company also has the rights to air the Miss Universe pageant.
In an interview scheduled to air Sunday on Telemundo's "Enfoque con Jose Diaz-Balart," Trump said "many bad people are coming in" from Mexico and elsewhere.
"You're going to have terrorists coming through the southern border. There's no question about it," he said.
The host challenged Trump, contending there has been no act of terrorism committed by someone crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
"You don't know that," Trump replied, adding later: "See what happens tomorrow. See what happens in two weeks from now. You can't say that terrorists, and I'm not even talking about terrorists from this region. I'm talking about from the Middle East they can come in. The border is totally open."
In severing her ties with the Miss USA pageant, Puerto Rican actress Roselyn Sanchez, one of the two co-hosts, cited Trump's comments about immigrants.
"Since I heard Trump's speech, as a Latina I felt a lump in my stomach. 'It's got to be a joke,' I thought," the star of the Lifetime series "Devious Maids" told The Associated Press.
Chilean actor-producer Cristian de la Fuente, the show's other co-host, had strong words for Trump: "It's a shame that such an important institution as Miss USA is now in the hands of a clown."
Ricky Martin also took to Twitter to blast Trump.
"A lot of hatred and ignorance in his heart," he tweeted.
Miss California USA Natasha Martinez was asked about Trump's comments during an interview Thursday on Los Angeles TV station KCAL and said they were "a little bit tough to hear."
"But I know that this opportunity for me as Miss California-USA, and now competing for Miss USA, is a great bridge to kind of represent my community and let the world know that I am a proud Latino-American," she said.
This year's UniMas telecast would have been the first in a five-year contract that Trump said "has no termination rights." Univision's wholly owned Spanish-language UniMas network, founded in 2013, is available in 70 million U.S. homes.
Associated Press writers Sigal Ratner-Arias and Claudia Torrens in New York, and John Antczak and Lynn Elber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.