President Donald Trump freely disparaged US immigration laws Tuesday at the White House, claiming that “not another country in the world has the stupidity of laws that we do when it comes to immigration.”
The comment, which came during an event aimed at combating the MS-13 gang, comes as Trump is trying to tie gang violence in the United States – particularly that of MS-13 – with the need to build a wall along the US-Mexico border and reform the immigration system.
“We need these immigration laws changed. We are just not going to be able to continue to do this. They just come in so far, so easy,” the President said. “And then you have catch and release. You catch people, you have to release them right away.”
He added: “Not another country in the world has the stupidity of laws that we do when it comes to immigration. And if we don’t get them changed, this isn’t politics, this isn’t Republican and Democrat, this is common sense. So, it has to be taken care of.”
Trump also claimed on Tuesday that members of the gang that traces its roots back to El Salvador “just come right through” the US-Mexico border and “recruits through our broken immigration system.”
The event featured stories from law enforcement officials, with some of the officers discussing specific stories about how they fought the gang and what could have helped them.
Trump has made combating Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, a central focus of his first year in office, pairing efforts to combat the gang with his hardline immigration policy. The Central American gang, which originated decades ago among Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles and has since built an extensive network of gangs across the country, currently has an estimated 10,000 members.
Trump slammed the gang during his first State of the Union address last month, saying it has “caused the loss of many innocent lives” and “took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors.”
The event on Tuesday is a continuation of that push, White House officials said.
John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff and lead aide handling immigration reform, attended the meeting, along with Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, Director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services Francis Cissna and Commissioner Kevin McAleenan of US Customs and Border Protection.
Reps. Peter King and Lee Zeldin, both Republicans from New York, attended the event. MS-13 has built thriving pockets in Long Island, just an hour outside of New York City.
Additionally, Republican Reps. Martha McSally of Arizona, Michael McCaul of Texas and Barbara Comstock of Virginia attended the gathering.