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Trump on MS-13: ‘These are not people, these are animals’

Trump on MS-13: ‘These are not people, these are animals’

President TrumpDonald John TrumpKey takeaways from the Arizona Senate debate Major Hollywood talent firm considering rejecting Saudi investment money: report Mattis says he thought 'nothing at all' about Trump saying he may leave administration MORE on Wednesday doubled down on his use of the term "animals" to describe some immigrants living illegally in the U.S.

Speaking at an event in New York about the MS-13 gang, Trump rebuked critics who said the term was inappropriate and reiterated that he used it to refer to gang members only.

"I called them animals the other day and I was met with rebuke," Trump said. "They said, 'These are people.' These are not people, these are animals and we have to be very, very tough."

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The president sparked controversy last week when he use the word "animals" during a discussion about "sanctuary cities" and members of MS-13.

During the meeting at the White House, a California sheriff told Trump she was frustrated by how her state's laws have limited the ability of local law enforcement officials to enforce federal immigration laws, especially against MS-13 members.

“These aren’t people. These are animals, and we’re taking them out of the country at a rate that’s never happened before," Trump responded.

The president said afterward that he was only referring to violent gang members, but critics questioned whether he was talking about immigrants more broadly.

Trump has previously used the term “animals” to refer to members of MS-13. He has also labeled larger groups of immigrants who come to the U.S. illegally as criminals.

At the Thursday event, Trump addressed the issue of minors who are brought into the U.S. illegally, pointing out that some go on to join violent gangs.

"They look so innocent. They are not innocent," he said.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump was clearly referring to MS-13 and said the term is more than appropriate.

"If the media and liberals want to defend MS-13, they're more than welcome to," Sanders told reporters last week. "Frankly, I don't think the term the president used is strong enough."