President Donald Trump

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Trump On MS-13: 'They're Not People, These Are Animals'

May 23, 2018 - 2:33 pm

NEW YORK (WCBS 880/CBS News/AP) -- For the second time in less than a year, President Donald Trump visited Long Island Wednesday to talk about gangs.

Elected officials, prosecutors, and victims' families were among those who attended the roundtable Wednesday at the Morelly Homeland Security Center in Bethpage to discuss ways to take out MS-13, the violent Salvadoran-based street gang that's killed at least 25 people on Long Island since 2016.

“We need immigration laws. We need strong laws,” Trump said, “and we’re going to get them. It’s moving. It’s harder and harder for the Democrats to fight it.”

Trump added, “in the not-too-distant future, I feel that this problem will be eradicated.”

But Trump also said MS-13 was outmatched by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“We have the ICE guys coming in, and I’ll tell you something – the ICE guys are a lot rougher than the MS-13 guys. They’re rougher. They’re tougher. They’re meaner,” he said.

Trump said he has been familiar with the areas where MS-13 is now active his whole life long.

“I essentially grew up on Long Island, and when I hear Hempstead and Mineola and all of the places I know so well, that you can’t walk outside – this used to be where you’d leave your doors unlocked. You’d leave your windows open, always, he said, “and you have gang members now that are so rough, people are afraid to go outside.”

Trump says the gang has turned formerly peaceful neighborhoods into "blood-stained killing fields."

Sitting next to U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-New York), Trump praised the congressman for his leadership.

Trump also said at the roundtable that he would start deducting foreign aid to countries that do not take back MS-13 gang members from the U.S.

"Every time someone comes in from a certain country, we're going to deduct a rather large sum of money," he said.

He added that, "We're looking at our whole aid structure."

Trump also said members of the MS-13 are "exploiting" loopholes in the immigration system. Some gang members, the president said, entered the country as unaccompanied minors. 

"They look so innocent. They're not innocent," he said.

MS-13 was blamed for the slayings of four teens in Brentwood within a period of less than two weeks back in 2016.

The bodies of best friends Nisa Mickens, 15, and Kayla Cuevas, 16, were found a day apart, and just over a week later, authorities discovered the bodies of Oscar Acosta, 19, and Miguel Garcia-Moran, 15.

Mickens and Cuevas’ families were at the roundtable.

“It’s very important for us – people in the community – to come together with our local law enforcement to help get rid of these members off our streets; out of our schools. Put them where they belong in prison,” said Robert Mickens.

“My daughter, Nisa, is supposed to be graduating in a couple of weeks. We’re supposed to be getting, you know, graduation outfits; having a party. We’re unable to do that,” said Kayla’s mother, Evelyn Rodriguez. “No parent should ever have to go through this at all.”

The roundtable had at least one participant the president hasn't expressed a wealth of confidence in lately — Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. 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, Trump said he wants "total transparency."

"Well, they're going to all be in the room tomorrow," Trump told reporters Wednesday on his way to New York before the roundtable. "We're going to 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, Trump called Rosenstein "Rod," and thanked him for his "nice" remarks.

Trump had taken some heat for using the term "animal" to describe some people who enter the country illegally, in response to a comment about MS-13 last week. Critics say he was referring to all immigrants.

He reiterated his comment again Wednesday.

"I noticed recently where Democrats, Nancy Pelosi as an example, are trying to defend MS-13 gang members. I called them animals the other day and I was met with rebuke. They said, 'They're people.' They're not people, these are animals and we have to be very, very tough," Trump said.

Pro-immigrant protesters, who say the president was casting a wider net with his comment, lined the streets outside the meeting site. 

"As law enforcement departments from both counties stand next to this man let's remember that his type of hatred and rhetoric only fuels gang recruitment. His promotion of MS-13 only gives them national and international coverage which is what they want in reality," Sergio Argueta from Strong Youth. "We will not fall victims to your ignorance. And so instead of focusing on calling this 'gang terror' we say no to 'Trump terror.'"

"We should not be explaining to our children that the highest office, the most regarded office, the person that sits there now is not doing what he's supposed to do," said Mimi Pierre-Johnson from the Elmont Cultural Center. "We refuse to allow any president to call another human being an animal, your from an s-hole country, or anything else that he calls human beings."

In the early going, there were more anti-Trump protesters outside the homeland security center, WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reported. Biaey Garcia did not like the president’s rhetoric.

"I'm an immigrant and I'm really offended when he referred to immigrants as animals, so that's why I'm here," Garcia said.

But as Trump’s arrival approached, there were more of his bakers. Virginia Daly thinks Trump’s language is fine.

"What's wrong with the way he talks about immigrants?” Daly said. “When people are here illegally and they are taking our money and everything, and they're killing like MS-13, there's an animal."

The two groups were separated by about 40 feet, but it seemed there was little middle ground.

The White House said in the “animals” comment, Trump was referring just to MS-13 gang members and not all immigrants.

King also defended Trump saying, "He is absolutely obsessed with evil of this organization. The president was clearly talking about MS-13 when he used the term 'animals.' And I think it's good for the president to be honest. These people are animals."

Meanwhile, Democratic Nassau County Executive Laura Curran attended the roundtable, calling it "a unique opportunity to directly seek more federal funds and assistance for law enforcement to combat gangs and gain resources for community groups to keep our youth from joining gangs."

She says in many cases, these children are high-school aged or even younger and pressured to join a gang.

"We need to help our community groups and family members reclaim their children who have been lured by or forced to embrace gang activity," Curran said. "Any and all help will always be appreciated in our fight to protect and save our youth from gang violence."

Curran was welcomed by name by Trump.

This was Trump’s second trip to Long Island in office for the purpose of highlighting the gang scourge, CBS News White House Correspondent Steven Portnoy said. He vowed to destroy MS-13 in Suffolk County last July.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. CBS News contributed to this report.)