Lawmakers, Haitians and other Caribbean nationals in the United States have expressed profound outrage over President Donald J. Trump’s alleged disparaging remarks on Thursday about Haitians and Africans.
In balking at an immigration deal that would include protections for people from Haiti and some nations in Africa, Trump demanded to know at a White House meeting on Thursday why he should accept immigrants from “shithole countries” rather than from places like Norway, according to legislators and others who attended the meeting.
Trump’s remarks, the latest example of his penchant for racially tinged remarks denigrating immigrants, left members of the US Congress from both parties attending the meeting in the Cabinet Room alarmed and mystified, according to the New York Times.
It said Trump made the remarks during a discussion of an emerging bipartisan deal to give legal status to Caribbean and other immigrants illegally brought to the United States as children.
When Trump heard that Haitians were among those who would benefit from the proposed deal, he asked whether they could be left out of the plan, asking, “Why do we want people from Haiti here?
The comments were reminiscent of ones Trump made last year in an Oval Office meeting with cabinet officials and administration aides, during which he complained about admitting Haitians to the country, saying that they “all had AIDS,” as well as Nigerians, who he said would never go back to their “huts,” according to officials who heard the statements in person or were briefed on the remarks by people who had, the Times said.
But the White House strongly denied last month that Trump made those remarks.
Congresswoman Mia Love, a Republican of Utah, who is of Haitian descent, demanded an apology from the president for Thursday’s remarks, saying his comments were “unkind, divisive, elitist, and fly in the face of our nation’s values.”
“This behavior is unacceptable from the leader of our nation,” Love went on in an emotional statement that noted her heritage and that said her parents “never took a thing” from the government while achieving the American dream.
“The president must apologize to both the American people and the nations he so wantonly maligned,” she demanded.
“As an American, I am ashamed of the president,” said Illinois Democratic Congressman Luis V. Gutiérrez. “His comments are disappointing, unbelievable, but not surprising.”
He added, we can now “say with 100 percent confidence that the president is a racist who does not share the values enshrined in our Constitution or Declaration of Independence.”
Miami Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who was born in Cuba and whose south Florida district includes many Haitian immigrants, said: “Language like that shouldn’t be heard in locker rooms, and it shouldn’t be heard in the White House.”
Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut, a frequent Trump critic, said the president’s comment “smacks of blatant racism, the most odious and insidious racism masquerading poorly as immigration policy.”
With South Florida being the home to the largest concentration of Haitians in the United States, Steven Forester of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, noted that “50,000 Haitians with TPS [Temporary Protected Status] contribute to our economy and Haiti’s and have 27,000 US-born kids.”
“Instead of a racist insult, he should protect our interests and these families. Returning them is insane, given the 2010 earthquake, an unchecked UN-introduced cholera epidemic that has killed 10,000 and sickened over 800,000, and Hurricane Matthew — the most devastating in 52 years,” Forester told the Miami Herald.
Friday marks the eighth anniversary of Haiti’s earthquake, which killed more than 250,000 people.
Florida Republican Congressman Curbelo tweeted: “under no circumstances is it acceptable to degrade, denigrate, or dehumanize #TPS immigrants.
“The White House must immediately explain the situation and leave no doubt regarding what was said and in what context,” he said.
Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who represents Little Haiti in Miami, was more brief in her reaction on social media.
“Sigh,” she posted on Twitter.
But Democrat Jean Monestime, the first Haitian-American elected to the Miami-Dade County Commission, condemned Trump’s alleged remark.
“Mr. Trump surely does not understand what makes America Great,” Monestime wrote. “I strongly condemn Mr. Trump’s comments about immigrants from El Salvador, Africa and Haiti not being suitable for admission into the United States.”
Cuban-born Florida Republican senator Marco Rubio, also tweeted: “In a skills-based economy, we can no longer decide who we allow to immigrate here primarily based on what country they are coming from.”
Miami-Dade’s Republican Mayor Carlos Gimenez Republican mayor condemned as “shameful” Trump’s reported use of “shithole” to describe Haiti and other countries.
“If true, President Trump’s remarks are very unfortunate and shameful,” he said in the statement Thursday night. “As Mayor of Miami-Dade County, I have personally experienced the contributions of the thousands of Haitian-Americans, Salvadorans and other residents from throughout the world who call our community home.
“I can attest to their hopes to build better lives for their families and their great contributions to our beautiful community and the United States,” he added.
Raj Shah, the White House deputy press secretary, did not deny the account of the meeting on Thursday or directly address Trump’s comments.
“Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people,” Shah said. “Like other nations that have merit-based immigration, President Trump is fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation.”
But the president’s vulgar language on a delicate issue left the fate of the broader immigration debate in limbo and had the potential to torpedo the chances of achieving the deal being sought to protect about 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, the Times said.
It said the episode at the White House, first reported by The Washington Post, unfolded as Trump was hosting a meeting with Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, and Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, who are working to codify the protections in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, the Obama-era initiative that provided temporary work permits and reprieves from deportation to Caribbean and other immigrants brought to the United States as children by their parents.
The plan outlined by Graham and Durbin, would also include more than US$2.5 billion for border security and a grant of protected status for the parents of the immigrants, known as Dreamers, who would be barred from sponsoring their parents for citizenship.
Trump grew angry as the group detailed another aspect of the deal — a move to end the diversity visa lottery program and use some of the 50,000 visas that are annually distributed as part of the program to protect vulnerable populations who have been living in the United States under what is known as Temporary Protected Status [TPS].
That was when Durbin mentioned Haiti, prompting the president’s criticism, according to the Times.
When the discussion turned to African nations, those with knowledge of the conversation added, Trump asked why he would want “all these people from shithole countries,” adding that the United States should admit more people from places like Norway.
About 83 percent of Norway’s population is ethnic Norwegian, according to a 2017 C.I.A. fact book, making the country overwhelmingly white, the Times said.
Congressman Cedric L. Richmond, Democrat of Louisiana and the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, called the president’s closed-door comments “yet another confirmation of his racially insensitive and ignorant views.”
He said Trump’s remarks reinforced “the concerns that we hear every day, that the president’s slogan, ‘Make America Great Again,’ is really code for ‘Make America White Again.’”