ST. LOUIS (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump says gangs in places such as Baltimore, Chicago, St. Louis and Ferguson, Missouri, are populated with "rough dudes" in the country illegally. But officials in those cities say there's no evidence to support him.
"You know a lot of the gangs that you see in Baltimore and in St. Louis and Ferguson and Chicago, do you know they're illegal immigrants?" Trump asked this week in a Dubuque, Iowa, news conference. "They're here illegally. And they're rough dudes. Rough people."
He made similar comments about those cities on Sunday news shows.
Trump has proposed deporting all people who are in the country illegally before allowing some to return. "They're going to be gone so fast, if I win, that your head will spin," he said.
But representatives of three of the four cities disputed Trump's claim, while in the fourth, Chicago, police say they don't track the immigration status of gang members. A message left with Trump's campaign on Wednesday was not returned.
In St. Louis, officials have no evidence that immigrants, whether in the country legally or illegally, play big roles in the city's gangs, said Maggie Crane, speaking for the Democratic mayor, Francis Slay.
"Illegal immigrants are not a problem for St. Louis," Crane said. "Our gangs are not made up of illegal immigrants. I have zero idea where Mr. Trump may have fabricated that idea."
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III, a Republican, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he has never seen gangs of immigrants "and that's not on our law enforcement's radar. No large group of ethnically oriented gangs."
Ferguson was the site of significant violence last year after 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black and unarmed, was fatally shot by white police officer Darren Wilson. Hundreds of people were arrested during protests and riots that followed the shooting, and after a grand jury declined to prosecute Wilson. Police in St. Louis County said none of those arrests involved anyone in the country illegally.
In Baltimore, a spokesman for the Democratic mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, questioned Trump's facts.
"Clearly we have our problem with gangs, but we haven't seen any clear relationship that would suggest that undocumented immigrants play any kind of substantial role in our crime issues here," Howard Libit said.
Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the department has no data to indicate how many gang members are people living in the country illegally.
"Mr. Trump obviously hasn't spent enough time in Chicago, where we don't treat immigrants like second-class residents," Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat, said in a statement.
In fact, St. Louis and Baltimore officials emphasized efforts to attract more immigrants.
"Baltimore prides itself on being welcoming to immigrants," Libit said. "Welcoming them to Baltimore is part of our long-term strategy to grow the city."
Associated Press writer Don Babwin in Chicago contributed to this report.