(CNSNews.com) – Democrat presidential hopeful Robert “Beto” O’Rourke used the first question in a CNN town hall on Tuesday to accuse President Trump of calling immigrants “animals” and an “infestation,” and stating that the president tried to “ban all Muslims” from entering the U.S.
All three claims, made within minutes of the start of the CNN event in Des Moines, Iowa, have been contested. None were challenged by CNN’s moderator, Dana Bash.
Asked how he as president would “restore global trust in American leadership,” the former member of the House of Representatives for Texas began by calling Trump’s policies at home and abroad “an absolute disaster.”
“Describing asylum-seekers as ‘animals’ or an ‘infestation’ – an ‘infestation’ is how you might describe a termite or a cockroach, something you want to stamp out, something less than human,” he said.
“To try to ban all Muslims, all people of one religion, from the shores of a country that is comprised of people from the world over – every tradition of faith, every walk of life.”
O’Rourke went on accuse Trump of embracing “strongmen and dictators” and of turning his back on America’s allies.
The claim that Trump called immigrants “animals” arose during a roundtable at the White House with California mayors and sheriffs a year ago.
When one of the sheriffs raised enforcement difficulties regarding members of the violent MS-13 gang, Trump replied, “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.”
Despite facing criticism, Trump later doubled down, using the term again in relation to MS-13 criminals, including in a White House fact sheet.
Likewise, he used the words “infest” and “infestation” to describe MS-13 gang members, not immigrants in general.
“Democrats are the problem,” he tweeted last June. “They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13.”
“When we have an ‘infestation’ of MS-13 GANGS in certain parts of our country, who do we send to get them out? ICE!” Trump tweeted the following month.
O’Rourke’s claim that Trump tried “to ban all Muslims, all people of one religion, from the shores” of the U.S. relates to the travel executive orders put in place by Trump since taking office.
As CNSNews.com has reported, they apply to citizens of a small minority of Muslim-majority countries.
The third iteration of the executive order, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last June, applies to just five Muslim countries – Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen – and partially to two non-Muslim countries, North Korea and Venezuela.
Those five Muslim countries have a total population of roughly 132 million people – about eight percent of the world’s estimated 1.6 billion Muslims.
Another 52 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) are not affected by the proclamation. Those 52 countries include six which together account for more than half of the world’s Muslims –Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Egypt and Turkey.
Not all nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen are covered by the travel ban either. Exemptions apply to Green Card and current visa holders, dual nationals traveling on passports of other countries, diplomats, asylees, and already-admitted refugees.
Despite accusations that Trump was unfairly targeting the targeted countries, all five – Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen – were identified as security risks by the Obama administration in 2015 and 2016.
At the time, the Department of Homeland Security determined that the five, as well as Iraq and Sudan, gave rise to legitimate terrorism concerns. As a result, visitors from those seven countries were eligible for additional security under legislation signed by President Obama in late 2015.