Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump accused the union that represents Border Patrol agents of bullying its members to pull out of hosting a visit by him to the U.S.-Mexican border in Texas on Thursday.
The developer and reality TV star said leaders of the National Border Patrol Council in Washington put pressure on its local representatives in Laredo to scrap their participation in the "boots on the ground" border trip.
Trump caused an uproar with accusations last month that Mexico sends rapists and other criminals to emigrate to the United States. He has also promised to build a wall on the border and make Mexico pay for it.
Local members of the Border Patrol union had been ready to accompany Trump, who has outraged Mexicans with incendiary comments about immigrants, but announced early on Thursday that they had abandoned the plan after discussions with union leaders.
"They were totally silenced directly from superiors in Washington who do not want people to know how bad it is on the border --- every bit as bad as Mr. Trump has been saying," the candidate said in a statement.
He said he would go ahead with the visit on Thursday "despite the great danger." A spokesman for the union's national office was not immediately available for comment.
The TV host is at or near the top of many opinion polls of the 16 Republican candidates for the November, 2016 presidential election, worrying the party establishment, which fears he could turn off moderate voters.
Trump threatened in an interview published on Thursday
to run as a political independent if he does not get "fair" treatment from the Republican Party.
He said any third-party bid would depend on the Republican National Committee's actions during the party's primary selection process, according to The Hill.
"I'll have to see how I'm being treated by the Republicans," Trump was quoted as saying. "Absolutely, if they're not fair, that would be a factor."
The comments followed rebukes by the party establishment over his criticism of Mexican immigrants and U.S. Senator John McCain's war record and for personal attacks against fellow Republican White House contenders.
An independent run could split Republican voters and give leading Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton an edge in the 2016 election.
(Additional reporting by Emily Stephenson; Editing by John Whitesides and Christian Plumb)