White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on Thursday sharply defended President Trump’s characterization of undocumented immigrants who commit violent crimes as “animals.”
“The president was very clearly referring to MS-13 gang members who entered the country illegally and whose deportations are hamstrung by our laws,” Sanders told reporters at a White House press briefing. “This one of the most vicious and deadly gangs that operate by the motto of rape, control and kill.”
During a round table discussion about California’s sanctuary cities laws at the White House on Wednesday afternoon, Trump used the term “animals” after a Fresno County sheriff complained that legal restrictions placed on ICE databases make it difficult to track members of the MS-13 gang.
“We have people coming into the country, who are trying to come in, and 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,” Trump said. “These aren’t people. These are animals.”
The comment sparked controversy as some critics and media reports suggested Trump was using the term to broadly describe all immigrants.
“If the media and liberals want to defend MS-13, they are more than welcome to,” Sanders said. “Frankly I don’t think the term the president used was strong enough.”
The press secretary then read a list of several examples of “heinous acts” carried out by MS-13.
“It took an animal to stab a man 100 times and decapitate him and rip his heart out,” Sanders said. “It took an animal to beat a woman they were sex trafficking in the back, indenting part of her body. And it took an animal to kidnap, drug and rape a 14-year-old girl.”
She added: “Frankly I don’t think the term animal goes far enough. And I think the president should continue to use his platform and everything he can do under the law to stop these horrible, horrible, disgusting people.”
Trump himself defended his use of the term speaking to reporters later Thursday afternoon.
“We need strong immigration laws,” the president said. “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.”