White House doubles down on Trump's MS-13 'animals' label

The president is pressuring Congress to pass stricter immigration legislation.

May 21, 2018, 1:54 PM

The White House continued its forceful defense Monday of a recent series of remarks by President Donald Trump that described members of the MS-13 gang as "animals."

An email sent to reporters Monday featured the subject line, "WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIOLENT ANIMALS OF MS-13," that includes a description of some of the various crimes carried out by the gang across the country, and uses the word 'animals' a total of 10 times.

"President Trump’s entire Administration is working tirelessly to bring these violent animals to justice," the email reads.

The White House seized on the description after social media backlash to a set of remarks the president delivered last Wednesday during an immigration roundtable.

"We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in – and we're stopping a lot of them – but we're taking people out of the country," Trump said. "You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals. And we're taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that's never happened before."

Some critics seized on the president's remarks as a broader description of undocumented immigrants, though the White House fiercely pushed back and noted that the president made the comments as a response to a panelist's question regarding MS-13.

"If the media and liberals want to defend MS-13, they’re more than welcome to," press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a Thursday briefing with reporters. "Frankly, I don’t think the term that the president used was strong enough."

The president then followed up on Sanders' remarks with his own defense doubling down on the description.

"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," Trump said.

Democratic lawmakers and left-leaning organizations, however, said the rhetoric paralleled with some of the strongest immigration remarks made by the president during his presidential campaign, including his description of some undocumented immigrants as "rapists."

A White House official tells ABC News the president will visit Long Island, N.Y. on Wednesday where he will hold a roundtable on immigration and MS-13, part of an ongoing public relations pressure campaign against Congress to enact stricter immigration legislation.

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