U.S. President Donald Trump reportedly told lawmakers during a meeting that he did not want to grant protections to immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and several African nations and that he instead wanted America to accept people from countries like Norway. The president allegedly referred to the nations he deemed undesirable for immigration as “s**thole countries.”
On Jan. 11, Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois and GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina arrived at the White House to present a bipartisan immigration deal to Trump. White House policy adviser Stephen Miller reportedly arranged for several Republican lawmakers known for far-right immigration stances to also be present at the meeting, The Washington Post reported.
Several sources familiar with the meeting said that Trump grew agitated when Durbin and Graham outlined protections for Haitian, Salvadoran and African immigrants. A White House official who requested anonymity said that the proposals “did not go well.”
The bipartisan deal would have provided Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients a pathway to citizenship and allocated $1.5 billion to begin building Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border along with additional funding for border surveillance. It also would have overhauled the U.S. diversity lottery program to prioritize visas for immigrants who had previously received temporary protected status benefits and merit-based applicants.
The U.S. had granted 60,000 Haitian immigrants TPS protections in 2010 after an earthquake devastated their country. It also extended temporary protections to over 250,000 Salvadorans after earthquakes ravaged El Salvador in 2001. The Trump administration has since rescinded TPS protections for immigrants from Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Sudan. Once these immigrants’ protections expire, they will lose their work permits and could be deported from the U.S., according to CNN.
When Durbin and Graham proposed offering visas to TPS beneficiaries, the president allegedly grew frustrated and responded: “Why are we having all these people from s**thole countries come here?”
Trump reportedly asserted that the U.S. should accept immigrants from countries like Norway or from Asia, stating that Asians were more likely to help the U.S. economically.
“Why do we need more Haitians?” Trump told Durbin, according to sources in the room. “Take them out.”
The president ultimately rejected Durbin and Graham’s proposal.
Following reports of Trump’s remarks, White House spokesperson Raj Shah released a statement that did not deny that the president described Haiti and El Salvador as “s**thole countries.”
“Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people,” Shah said.
Trump’s reported comments ignited outrage among Democrats and some GOP lawmakers. Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois said that the remarks would damage immigration negotiations.
“Democrats and Republicans in the Senate made a proposal,” Gutierrez said. “The answer is this racist outburst of the president … [Republicans] don’t believe in immigration — it’s always been about people of color and keeping them out of this country.”
GOP Rep. Mia Love of Utah, who has Haitian heritage, blasted Trump’s comments as “unkind, divisive [and] elitist.”
Haitian President Jovenel Moise’s office issued a statement condemning the alleged remarks.
“The Haitian government condemns in the strongest terms these abhorrent and obnoxious remarks which, if proven, reflect a totally erroneous and racist view of the Haitian community and its contribution to the United States,” the statement read, according to The Associated Press.
On Jan. 12, Trump took to Twitter to assert that he had been misquoted.
“The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used,” Trump tweeted out. “What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made — a big setback for DACA!”
The president asserted that he “[n]ever said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country. … I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians.”
Durbin asserted to reporters on Capitol Hill that Trump had made the remarks after he broached the topic of African immigrants.
“That’s when he used those sickening, heartbreaking remarks, saying: ‘Those s**tholes send us the people that they don’t want,'” Durbin said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “He repeated that. He didn’t just say it one time.”
Graham released a statement in response to reports on the meeting.
“Following comments by the President, I said my piece directly to him yesterday,” Graham said. “The President and all those attending the meeting know what I said and how I feel. I’ve always believed that America is an idea, not defined by its people but by its ideals.”
Congress has until Jan. 19 to pass a spending bill to keep the government funded. Democratic lawmakers have said they will not vote for the bill until DACA is addressed.