Updated May 18
President Trump, speaking on Wednesday to a gathering of officials from California who oppose the state's "sanctuary" law, compared some people who illegally cross the U.S. southern border to "animals."
During a White House roundtable discussion with law enforcement officials and political leaders, Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims expressed frustration that a California law signed last year by Gov. Jerry Brown forbids informing U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement of undocumented immigrants in the state's jails, even if police believe they are part of a gang.
"There could be an MS-13 member I know about — if they don't reach a certain threshold, I cannot tell ICE about it," Mims said.
Trump's response: "We have people coming into the country — or trying to come in, we're stopping a lot of them — but we're taking people out of the country, you wouldn't believe how bad these people are. These aren't people. These are animals," the president said.
As the remark drew criticism and sparked a debate over which people Trump meant to include within the scope of his remarks, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway said people had "rushed to judgment."
Conway added that both the president and people who have lost loved ones to gang violence are owed an apology.
On Thursday, the White House clarified the comment. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump was "very clearly referring to MS-13 gang members who enter the country illegally and whose deportations are hamstrung by our laws."
When asked about the comment, Trump himself said "I'm referring and you know I'm referring to the MS-13 gangs that are coming in. I was talking about the MS-13. And if you look a little bit further on in the tape you'll see that. So I'm actually surprised that you're asking this question 'cause most people got it right."
"MS-13, these are animals," he continued Thursday. "They're coming into out country, we're getting them out. They come in again, we're getting them out. We need strong immigration laws. ... We have laws that are laughed at on immigration. So when the MS-13 comes in, when the other gang members come into our country, I refer to them as animals and guess what? I always will."
At Wednesday's event, the president thanked attendees at the roundtable who he said had "bravely resisted California's deadly and unconstitutional sanctuary state laws."
"[The] release of illegal immigrant criminals, drug dealers, gang members and violent predators into your communities" and providing "safe harbor to some of the most vicious and violent offenders on earth," the president said.
Gov. Brown tweeted out later that the president "is lying on immigration, lying about crime and lying about the laws of CA."
As The Associated Press notes, "Brown insists the legislation, which took effect Jan. 1, doesn't prevent federal immigration officials from doing their jobs. But the Trump administration has sued to reverse it, calling the policies unconstitutional and dangerous. Some counties, including San Diego and Orange, have voted to support the lawsuit or passed their own anti-sanctuary resolutions."
Despite evidence to the contrary, Trump has repeatedly insisted that illegal immigration to the U.S. is contributing to a wave of crime. During the 2016 campaign, he famously referred to immigrants from Mexico as "bad hombres" and said most were "drug dealers, criminals, rapists."
Citing one study conducted by four universities, The New York Times wrote in March that data show, "a large majority of the [metropolitan] areas have many more immigrants today than they did in 1980 and fewer violent crimes. The Marshall Project extended the study's data up to 2016, showing that crime fell more often than it rose even as immigrant populations grew almost across the board."
According to the Times, "In 136 metro areas, almost 70 percent of those studied, the immigrant population increased between 1980 and 2016 while crime stayed stable or fell. The number of areas where crime and immigration both increased was much lower — 54 areas, slightly more than a quarter of the total. The 10 places with the largest increases in immigrants all had lower levels of crime in 2016 than in 1980."