In an Oval Office meeting with lawmakers on Thursday, President Donald Trump described Haiti and African nations as “shithole” countries and slammed the idea of restoring protections for immigrants from those regions.
“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” the president said, sources told The Washington Post. Trump reportedly followed up suggesting the U.S. should welcome more immigrants from countries like Norway.
Trump’s remarks sparked immediate outrage from progressive organizations and Democratic lawmakers, including Reps. Barbara Lee (Calif.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (N.J.), Jim McGovern (Mass.) and Karen Bass (Calif.).
Haiti’s Ambassador to the U.S., Paul Altidor, has also formally summoned an American official to explain the president’s comments and said the government “vehemently” condemned them, NBC News contributor Yamiche Alcindor reported.
“Either the president has been misinformed or he is miseducated,” Altidor was quoted as saying.
Despite the criticism, the White House did not walk back the president’s remarks.“Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people,” White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah said in a statement to CBS News.
“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,” Shah added. “He will always reject temporary, weak and dangerous stopgap measures that threaten the lives of hardworking Americans, and undercut immigrants who seek a better life in the United States through a legal pathway.”
The statement did not directly address the reported “shithole” remark.
Trump is currently negotiating with congressional lawmakers over how to help so-called Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. The president put many of them at risk of losing their protection from deportation when he ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. In exchange for helping Dreamers now, Trump wants various border security measures ― including his wall ― and restrictions on legal immigration that would largely affect people of color.
During the negotiations, some lawmakers have proposed granting visas to individuals from Haiti, El Salvador and multiple African nations who are in the U.S. on temporary protected status. The Trump administration has already terminated that status for people from Haiti, El Salvador and Nicaragua, which means more than 200,000 people currently living in the U.S. have a matter of months to either leave or face deportation.
Trump reportedly scoffed at “shithole countries” in response to that proposal.
“As our nation fights to move forward, our President falls deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of racism and xenophobia,” the NAACP said in a statement. “The United States’ position as a moral leader throughout the world has been thoroughly damaged by the continuous lowbrow, callous and unfiltered racism.”
Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Trump’s comments were yet another “confirmation of his racially insensitive and ignorant views.”
“It also reinforces the concerns that we hear every day, that the President’s slogan Make America Great Again is really code for Make America White Again,” Richmond said in a statement.
Rep. Coleman echoed those calls, calling the president a “cowardly racist who has no business being President of the United States.
“Shame on him and those who don’t hold him accountable,” she tweeted.
Elisa Massimino, president and CEO of Human Rights First, called the president’s reported remark “disgusting and disgraceful.”
“That the President of the United States would talk this way about people who are fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries is shameful,” she said in a statement. “Congress must not give in to this hateful, racist, and divisive narrative coming out of the White House. America is counting on you to defend human dignity by standing firm for our commitment to protect the persecuted.”
This wouldn’t be the president’s first racially charged remark. He spent years furthering the conspiracy theory that Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, was not born in the U.S. He launched his presidential campaign with a speech that accused Mexico of sending rapists and criminals across the border and proposed banning all Muslims from entering the country before settling for barring individuals from certain Muslim-majority nations. He has repeatedly referred to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as “Pocahontas,” including at an event to honor Native Americans who served in World War II.
Trump previously said in private meetings that Haitians “all have AIDS” and that people from Africa would never “go back to their huts” once they had seen the U.S., The New York Times reported in December. The White House has denied that he made either of those comments.
Jack Davidson, executive director of the American Haitian Foundation, said Trump’s latest comment was “ignorant [and] racist with a complete disregard for the human dignity of the Haitian people.”
“[Haiti] has been struggling with its democracy and extreme poverty for many years,” Davidson told HuffPost. “The people of the country of Haiti are hardworking but many have given up hope. I am embarrassed that he is the president of the United States.”
The president has criticized black athletes for kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality, calling for NFL owners to “get that son of a bitch off the field.”
He has been reticent at times to criticize white nationalists who support him. In August, the president said there were “very fine people” participating in a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a counter-protester was killed.
Trump is demanding an end to the diversity visa lottery, which grants up to 50,000 green cards to people from countries that send comparatively few immigrants to the U.S., many of them in Africa. Those individuals are chosen by the U.S. and then vetted, and there is no indication that they pose a greater threat than other immigrants or native-born citizens. But Trump has nonetheless made the baseless claim that through the visa lottery, foreign governments “give us their worst people … really the worst of the worst.”
The president also wants to limit what he and many proponents of slashing legal immigration call “chain migration,” the process by which Americans and legal permanent residents can sponsor certain family members for green cards. That, too, could largely affect people of color, because recent immigrants are more likely to come from Asian or Latin American countries.
For Trump’s own Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, however, his business has reportedly requested hundreds of visas to bring in foreign workers, including from Haiti.
Nick Wing and Nick Visser contributed reporting.