Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally in Des Moines on June 16. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

The head of an influential national conservative organization defended Donald Trump on Thursday against criticism the Republican presidential hopeful has received over his controversial comments about Mexican immigrants.

"I think it is easy for people to attack Donald Trump over what he said," American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp said. "I think they ought to listen to what he is saying. I actually know Donald Trump. He is not a racist. He is trying to characterize the fact that a broken immigration system can lead to a lot of problems."

Schlapp, whose group is perhaps known best for its popular annual Conservative Political Action Conference, made his comments in an interview with The Washington Post and the Hill on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers." Trump has spoken at CPAC in recent years.

In announcing his presidential campaign last month, Trump made remarks about Mexican immigrants that have drawn criticism from Latino groups and prompted some of his corporate partners to sever ties with him.

“They’re bringing drugs,” Trump said. “They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

Schlapp said that while the "tone and the words he chose are different from what I would choose," he understood the point Trump was trying to make.

"I actually heard on the radio today him saying what he was talking about is illegal immigrants. And that's an incredibly important distinction to draw," said Schlapp, adding: "When you have a broken immigration system, it's hard to characterize the nature of the illegal immigrants that come into our country."

Trump, who has surged into the top tier of the crowded GOP field in recent polls, "resonates with a lot of Americans," said Schlapp.

"It's undeniable that what he is saying is working out there in the country," he added.