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Trump floats cutting aid for countries over illegal immigration, MS-13

Last Updated May 23, 2018 4:28 PM EDT

President Trump railed against MS-13 gang members in a Wednesday roundtable discussion on Long Island, New York, as his administration continues to highlight crimes by people Mr. Trump calls "animals." Last week, in the context of another immigration roundtable, Mr. Trump sparked controversy for his use of the term to describe gang members who enter the country illegally.

He and the White House have since doubled down on that sentiment, including in remarks in Bethpage on Wednesday.

"I called them 'animals' the other day and was met by rebuke," Mr. Trump said Wednesday, flanked by members of his administration, local officials and families of victims of the gang. "They're not people. They're animals."

Thomas Homan, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said Mr. Trump was "kind" with his "animals" comment: "Animals kill for survival, MS-13 kills for sport," he said.

Mr. Trump, in the context of the discussion about violent MS-13 gangs, floated the idea of withholding a "rather large amount of money" from countries where violent illegal immigrants hail from, "if we give them aid at all." 

"They don't want the people that we're getting in that country," Mr. Trump said. "So we're going to work out something where every time someone comes from a certain country, we're going to deduct a rather large amount of money from what we give them in aid -- if we give them aid at all, which we may not just give them aid at all, because despite the reports I hear, I don't believe they're helping us one bit."

The president said members of the gang are "exploiting" loopholes in the immigration system. Some gang members, the president said, entered the country as unaccompanied minors, a statement Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen reiterated.

"They look so innocent. They're not innocent," Mr. Trump said.

The president, who grew up in Queens, just miles from where he was speaking Wednesday, said it's "unthinkable" what is happening on Long Island. 

"It's unthinkable that it's almost like an occupied territory, where your children are afraid to go out," the president said.

Wednesday's roundtable had at least one participant the president hasn't expressed a wealth of confidence in lately -- Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Mr. Trump has spent the last few days criticizing the FBI and Justice Department on Twitter, alleging the FBI might have embedded a "spy" in his presidential campaign. Asked why he won't say he has confidence in Rosenstein, Mr. Trump said he wants "total transparency."

"Well, they're going to all be in the room tomorrow," Mr. Trump told reporters Wednesday on his way to New York. "We're gonna see what happens. What I want is, I want total transparency. Wait. You have to have transparency. Even they probably want transparency because this issue supersedes a party. This supersedes Republicans and Democrats. So what I want from Rod, from the FBI, from everybody -- we want transparency."

But at the roundtable, Mr. Trump called Rosenstein "Rod," and thanked him for his "nice" remarks.

The president has railed against MS-13 gang crime on Long Island before, visiting in July of last year. At the time, he told a crowd of law enforcement officers he doesn't mind if police get physical with gang members.

"When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in - rough - I said, 'Please don't be too nice.' Like when you guys put someone in the car and you're protecting their head [with your hand],..like don't hit their head, and they've just killed somebody....I said, 'you can take the hand away,'" Mr. Trump said.

  • Kathryn Watson

    Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.