There were a lot of questions raised by Trump supporters yesterday about when President Trump referred to people as “animals.” The argument is that he wasn’t referring to immigrants or even undocumented immigrants in general. He was supposedly referring to hardened MS-13 gang members. That’s not true. The comment comes in an interchange with a county sheriff in which the sheriff complains about how the state laws in California have made it harder for her department to work with ICE. I went back and grabbed the longer exchange so people can watch for themselves.
The exchange is with Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims …
There’s been a lot of question about whether he was taken out of context when he referred to “animals” and that he was supposedly only talking about MS-13 gang members. That’s not quite true. It’s actually a broader discussion about who local PDs can work with ICE. Watch. pic.twitter.com/QxxsEP1XCa
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) May 17, 2018
Here’s the official transcript of what you just heard.
SHERIFF MIMS: Thank you, Mr. President. You know, sheriffs in California are now in an untenable position when it comes to trying to figure out — now, we have state law, we have federal laws, and here we are stuck in the middle. Sheriffs, especially, because most of us run our county jails.
When there became a legal challenge to the 48-hour holds for ICE, it was very frustrating for us. So what I did is I invited ICE to put their officers in my jails so they’re able to do their work. We didn’t have the staffing to be able to help figure out who they wanted to talk to or didn’t. I said, come on in, work with our people to keep our community safe. Two weeks later, Mr. President, Kate Steinle was murdered.
Now, I wasn’t the only sheriff to do that. Sheriff Youngblood did, Sheriff Christianson. And it was perfect — because we didn’t have to take our time, with our staff, to do anything. ICE was in there doing their work in a safe, controlled, environment. And then, the initiatives started happening — the TRUST Act, the TRUTH Act, and finally, SB 54, the Values Act. And that is causing us all kinds of turmoil.
So here we are, stuck in the middle, trying to decide. We have federal law, we have state law. And that’s why I welcomed Attorney General Sessions’s lawsuit, because that will provide us the clarity that we need and direction that we need. What do we do? Because here we are.
And I appreciated Mr. Homan and ICE. We had a great relationship; we still do. But now ICE is the only law enforcement agency that cannot use our databases to find the bad guys. They cannot come in and talk to people in our jail, unless they reach a certain threshold. They can’t do all kinds of things that other law enforcement agencies can do. And it’s really put us in a very bad position.
THE PRESIDENT: It’s a disgrace. Okay? It’s a disgrace.
SHERIFF MIMS: It’s a disgrace.
THE PRESIDENT: And we’re suing on that, and we’re working hard, and I think it will all come together, because people want it to come together. It’s so ridiculous. The concept that we’re even talking about is ridiculous. We’ll take care of it, Margaret. We’ll win.
SHERIFF MIMS: Thank you. There could be an MS-13 member I know about — if they don’t reach a certain threshold, I cannot tell ICE about it.
THE PRESIDENT: We have people coming into the 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.
The dumbest laws — as I said before, the dumbest laws on immigration in the world. So we’re going to take care of it, Margaret. We’ll get it done. We’re going to ask that man right there, because that man can do it. (Laughter.) Right now he’s the most important man in the room. Kevin can do it.
To me, the full context is about as damning as the President’s context in isolation. The comment isn’t restricted to MS-13 gang members. It’s a more general discussion of state laws interfering with Sheriffs’ ability to work with ICE to facilitate deportations. So it’s really about anyone swept up into the criminal justice system, for everything from the most trivial to the most heinous acts. More generally, the clear thrust of Trump’s comment is that the country is being overridden by a wave of criminal aliens even though there is voluminous evidence that immigrants, legal and not, commit crimes at significantly lower rates than the native-born. There’s no salvaging this hideous comment.
I think it’s important to add that labeling classes of people subhuman is really always wrong. It leads to horrific actions. That’s still true even if we’re talking about people in gangs who do commit horrific acts.