President Donald Trump said Wednesday his administration is devising a plan to withhold US foreign aid funds from the home countries of immigrants who illegally enter the United States.
Speaking at a roundtable on illegal immigration and the MS-13 gang, Trump offered few specifics about the plan and it was unclear if he was referring to the illegal entry of any undocumented immigrant or those who have committed other crimes. It was also possible he was referring to situations where home countries refuse to accept undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes in the US once they have served their prison sentence.
"Many of these countries we give tremendous amounts of aid to. Tens of millions of dollars. And we're working on a plan to deduct a lot of the aid because I happen to believe that it's not so hard," Trump said during the event in Bethpage, New York.
"So we're going to work out something where every time somebody comes in from that country, we're going to deduct a rather large amount of money from what we give them in aid -- if we give them aid at all, which we may not just give them aid at all," he added.
A White House spokesman could not immediately clarify the President's comments.
Trump's comment came after Rep. Dan Donovan, R-New York, lamented the situation where the home countries of certain undocumented immigrants refuse to "take ... back" undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes in the US.
Trump accused the home countries of undocumented immigrants in the US not only of "not trying to stop" illegal immigration to the US, but of encouraging criminals to leave their country.
"They'll let you think that they're trying to stop this. They're not trying to stop it. I think they encourage people," Trump said. "They don't want the people -- they don't want the people that we're getting in that country."
"Despite all the reports I hear, I don't believe they're helping us one bit," he added of the home countries.
Trump has previously threatened aid cuts to Latin American countries who are primarily responsible for illegal immigration to the US, but experts have warned such efforts would backfire and could worsen the flow of migrants to the US.
The roundtable on Wednesday was just the latest in a series of events the President has hosted in recent weeks focused on immigration issues, underscoring the extent to which the White House is focused on illegal immigration as a rallying issue heading into the 2018 midterms.
Trump once again shined a spotlight on crimes committed by MS-13 gang members to reinforce his administration's efforts to curtail illegal immigration, even though they account for only a small portion of both the number of undocumented immigrants and gang members in the United States.
The Justice Department estimates there are more than 10,000 MS-13 gang members in the United States. That is just a fraction -- less than 1% -- of the 1.4 million gang members the FBI estimates to be criminally active in the United States.
While it is not known what percentage of MS-13 members are undocumented, MS-13's membership in the US is dwarfed by the total undocumented immigrant population in the US, which is estimated at roughly 11 million.