As he rejected a bipartisan compromise to resolve the standoff over so-called Dreamers, President Trump asked participants in an Oval Office meeting Thursday why the United States should accept immigrants from “shithole countries” in Africa, Central America and the Caribbean, according to two people briefed on the meeting.
“What do we want Haitians here for?” the president asked, according to the people briefed. “Why do we want all these people from Africa here? Why do we want all these people from shithole countries?"
The president added: "We should have people from places like Norway."
Asked about the president’s use of the slur, the White House did not deny it, but issued a statement saying Trump would “always fight for the American people.”
While cruder and blunter than his past public statements, the president’s comments were in keeping with his long-standing position that the United States should shift its immigration policy away from poorer, developing countries, and instead focus on carefully selecting educated immigrants, especially from Europe, who can already speak English and have professional or technical skills needed in the United States.
It’s not the first time Trump has made disparaging comments about foreigners and members of minority groups. He has frequently characterized Muslims as terrorists and opened his presidential campaign calling Mexican immigrants “rapists.”
Trump’s statement was met with quick condemnation.
“Immigrants from countries across the globe — including and especially those from Haiti and all parts of Africa — have helped build this country," said Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). "They should be welcomed and celebrated, not demeaned and insulted.”
Former Mexican President Vicente Fox, who has frequently sparred with Trump over his negative comments about Mexico, tweeted: “Your mouth is the foulest shithole in the world.”
Albert Saint Jean, a Haitian American organizer with the New York-based Black Alliance for Just Immigration, called Trump's comments appalling and insulting.
Saint Jean's group advocates on behalf of immigrants from countries across Africa and the Caribbean, including many Haitians. If Trump was referring to those countries as impoverished, he said, that impoverishment is a result of the U.S. and European powers' legacy of involvement there.
"When these people come here, they create very productive communities and contribute to major economies like Miami, New York and Boston," he said. "It's showing the total lack of understanding he has of global policy."
The Oval Office exchange came during a meeting intended to present the White House with a bipartisan compromise to help resolve the standoff over immigration.
Trump’s swift rejection shows how difficult it will be for Congress to develop a legislative solution to protect some 700,000 young immigrants when Trump ends the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in March.
The White House also made clear it does not want to include as part of the deal the Dream Act, which would expand the existing program, according to Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who took part in meeting. Instead, the administration is seeking to protect a more narrow universe of young immigrants who already have temporary DACA protections.
“I think we still have a ways to go,” White House legislative director Marc Short told reporters on Capitol Hill. “We’re pleased the bipartisan members are talking.”
The meeting came after a federal judge this week issued an injunction halting Trump’s plans to end DACA, providing the immigrants with temporary relief. The administration plans to appeal.
More than 1,000 DACA recipients daily will face deportation in March, advocates say. They are young immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children, but have temporary permits under DACA to work, attend school or serve in the military.
Only one Democrat, Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois — a leader of the bipartisan Senate group — was among the seven lawmakers at the noontime meeting. It included Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), another leader of the bipartisan group, and five other House and Senate lawmakers.
Cotton, who has emerged as one of the strongest proponents of White House plans to limit legal immigration, called the bipartisan senators’ proposal a “joke.”
“It’s not even a fig leaf. It’s a pine needle,” Cotton told reporters after the meeting.
When House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) told Trump that a separate group of congressional leaders was planning to continue its own discussions later Thursday, the president told them, “Go do that,” according to Cotton.
The Senate group’s proposal focused on four elements that had been agreed to during a meeting Trump convened with lawmakers earlier this week at the White House.
Their proposal centered on a deal that would offer Dream Act-like deportation protections for the young immigrants in exchange for border security measures and new limits on legal immigration through family unification visas and the diversity lottery.
Cotton said the border security measures were insufficient and included only one year of funding for development of Trump’s proposed border wall, far short of the $18 billion the White House has requested from Congress. The proposal would have provided $1.6 billion for border security.
The group’s proposal also did not fully end family unification, also known as “chain migration,” and only delayed the ability of Dreamers to bring in some other family members, including their adult siblings.
Similarly, the diversity lottery was not eliminated, as some are seeking, but instead shifted its 50,000 annual visas to other immigrant groups, namely Salvadorans and others who must leave the country as Trump ends their temporary protected status.
It was the discussion about this provision that led to Trump’s comments. As Durbin listed the countries that would benefit, Trump questioned why they should.
Earlier Thursday, Durbin and Graham had reached out to the White House to update the president on their emerging deal. The president spoke "very positively" of the effort, according to one of the sources briefed on the meeting. Trump invited them to the White House to talk about it.
But when the senators arrived, so did other lawmakers, all Republicans, including some of the more strident opponents of their approach. "All of a sudden these other hard-line guys showed up," the source said.
Republican leaders also distanced themselves from the bipartisan group’s plan.
McCarthy’s group includes the four No. 2 leaders in the House and Senate, which includes Durbin, House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland and Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the GOP whip.
Cornyn told reporters that any deal needed support from more than the six senators who comprised the bipartisan group.
“It’s not going to be done by just a subgroup,” he said.