Trump referred to the gang MS-13 as animals. He did not refer to undocumented immigrants as animals.
On May 16, 2018, President Donald Trump hosted a roundtable conference with California local politicians and law enforcement officials.
Margaret Mims, the sheriff of Fresno County in California, mentioned MS-13 gang members known for committing brutal crimes. She said that California laws made it difficult for her to share information with federal authorities about dangerous criminals like MS-13 gang members.
To this, Trump responded, “We have a lot of people coming into our country, or trying to come in — and we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals. And 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.”
This statement went viral, without context, and was misconstrued by many. People assumed that Trump was referring to immigrants, but he was not. On May 17, 2018, answering a reporter’s question during a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Trump said his comment was directed at members of the MS-13 gang. The gang was started in the 1980s by immigrants from Central America.
On May 18, 2018, Trump tweeted that media organizations were misconstruing the statement. Many memes and tweets were circulated with his statement and were presented out of context.