President Donald Trump has referred to some people who cross the US-Mexican border illegally as “animals” – drawing a sharp rebuke from Democratic leaders for the harsh rhetoric.
Trump’s remark at a meeting with local leaders from California was in response to a complaint about gang members.
“We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in – and we’re stopping a lot of them,” Trump said during the immigration round table after a sheriff commented about gangs.
“You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals.”
Senate Minority Leader and Democrat Chuck Schumer responded on Twitter to the president, saying, “When all of our great-great-grandparents came to America they weren’t ‘animals,’ and these people aren’t either.”
Trump was joined at the Wednesday White House meeting by mayors, sheriffs and other local leaders from California who oppose the state’s immigration policies and who applauded his administration’s hardline efforts.
They were criticising legislation Californian Governor Jerry Brown signed into law last year that bars police from asking people about their immigration status or helping federal agents with immigration enforcement.
Jail officials can transfer inmates to federal immigration authorities if they have been convicted of one of about 800 crimes, mostly felonies, but not for minor offences.
The Trump administration has sued to reverse the so-called “sanctuary” legislation.
Trump claims the laws are forcing the release of illegal immigrant criminals, drug dealers, gang members and violent predators into communities and providing “safe harbour to some of the most vicious and violent offenders on earth.”
Brown responded on Twitter, writing that Trump “is lying on immigration, lying about crime and lying about the laws of CA.”
The Democratic governor added: “Flying in a dozen Republican politicians to flatter him and praise his reckless policies changes nothing.
“We, the citizens of the fifth-largest economy in the world, are not impressed.”