The White House on Monday wouldn't deny that President Trump was referring to people having babies when he attacked a "crime infested and breeding concept" in so-called sanctuary cities last week in a much-criticized tweet.
Trump's sent the tweet Wednesday morning after a handful of California communities broke with the state over its immigrant sanctuary law, siding with the Trump administration on policies that limit local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration agents. Trump claimed in his tweet there is a "revolution going on in California" and "Sanctuary areas want OUT of this ridiculous, crime infested & breeding concept."
The statement quickly sparked backlash with critics calling the phrase derogatory and racist. The ACLU referred to the comment as a "dog whistle," Rep. Eric Swalwell of California called it "more racist rhetoric," and journalist Jorge Ramos said "this is not the first time in which President Trump has made racist remarks."
In her first press briefing since Trump returned from a week at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked by a reporter if Trump was making a "derogatory term about Latinos."
"No," she said. "He's talking about the problem itself growing and getting bigger."
Another reporter then asked Sanders to clarify her statement, saying that, "when you think of breeding, you think of animals breeding and populating."
Sanders replied that the phrase could "mean a lot of things to a lot of people, but the president is talking about a growing problem."
Asked about the comment a third time, and if Trump was "talking about people having babies," Sanders said, "not that I'm aware of, and I would have to ask him to be more specific."
Both the tweet and Sanders' attempts to clarify it came as Trump continued to push his hardline approach to immigration — a cornerstone of his political platform since the beginning of his candidacy. Earlier this month, the president said he wanted to send up to 4,000 National Guard troops to the US-Mexico border. Governors from various border states eventually pledged close to 2,000 troops for various support missions.
On Monday, Trump unleashed a Twitter attack on Mexico and a caravan of mostly Central American immigrants that has been traveling north toward the border. In one of the tweets, Trump said he has ordered the Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of Homeland Security, "not to let these large Caravans of people into our country."
Trump later said that Mexico "must stop people from" passing through its territory as a condition of a new North American Free Trade Agreement.
Nielsen later said in a statement that members of the caravan who try to enter the US illegally "will be referred for prosecution."
"A sovereign nation that cannot — or worse, chooses not — to defend its borders will soon cease to be a sovereign nation," Nielsen continued, echoing one of Trump's oft-repeated talking points. "The Trump Administration is committed to enforcing our immigration laws — whether persons are part of this 'caravan' or not."