After President Trump called some illegal immigrants “animals” in a plea for better enforcement this week, immigrant-rights activists blasted him for using a “racist dog whistle.”
Mr. Trump made the remark during a roundtable meeting with local officials in California who are resisting that state’s sanctuary law, which limits reporting or transfer of custody of illegal immigrants to federal deportation officers.
“You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals,” the president said. “We’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before. And because of the weak laws, they come in fast, we get them, we release them, we get them again, we bring them out. It’s crazy.”
The president’s language was similar to his frequent complaints about illegal immigrant MS-13 gang members — and it did come in response to a local sheriff who was complaining about the possibility of having to release an MS-13 member because of sanctuary policies.
But activists didn’t accept that characterization.
“Everyone knows that this sort of disgusting language has been used generation after generation to criminalize, arrest and kill people of color. We will not stand for it,” said Greisa Martinez Rosas, deputy executive director at United We Dream, an organization of illegal immigrant “Dreamers.”
United We Dream also used the remark in a fund-raising email that compared Mr. Trump to Adolf Hitler.
“Just like when Hitler referred to Jewish peoples as ‘rats,’ Trump’s language is the language of genocide against other human beings,” it said. “Trump wants to push immigrants off of the voting rolls, lock us away in prisons, drag us to detention camps, and to deport us by the millions. Together, we’re fighting back _ but we can’t do it alone. We need your support now.”
Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said nobody wants MS-13 gangs in their communities, but said Mr. Trump repeatedly mentioning MS-13 while talking about immigration is an attempt to smear the vast majority of other illegal immigrants who aren’t part of gangs.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also suggested Mr. Trump was talking about the broader illegal immigrant population — and said he was betraying scripture by doing so.
“When the president of the United States says about undocumented immigrants, ‘These aren’t people, these are animals,’ you have to wonder — does he not believe in the spark of divinity?” she said. “Calling people animals is not a good thing.”
But White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, referring to the “animals” controversy, said the criticism was mis-aimed.
“Others who rushed to judgment to get the President rather than to get the story owe @POTUS - and the grieving loved ones who have lost family members to gang violence - an apology,” she said on Twitter.
The Rev. Darrell Scott of Cleveland, pastor of the New Spirit Revival Center and an informal Trump adviser, said Mr. Trump can’t catch a break.
“If the POTUS said that Satan was an evil being, the left would defend Satan, criticize the POTUS for saying it, and Satan would become a media darling on CNN and MSNBC,” he tweeted.
• Dave Boyer contributed to this story.