Trump told a group of lawmakers that he thinks Haiti, El Salvador, and all of Africa are “shithole countries,” the Washington Post reported Thursday, citing two sources.
The comments arose during a Thursday meeting Trump had with lawmakers, where they debated potentially allowing immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and Africa to remain in the country. (The Trump administration announced Monday that it plans to cancel the temporary residency permits of more than 200,000 Salvadoran immigrants.)
“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, referring to Haiti and African countries, according to two sources briefed on the meeting who spoke to the Post. Buzzfeed, citing "a source close to the negotiations," reports Trump was also referring to El Salvador.
Instead, Trump purportedly wants to bring in more people from nations like Norway, whose prime minister Trump met with on Wednesday.
Among the reported members of the meeting were South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, Virginia Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, and Illinois Democrat Richard Durbin.
The president’s remarks on Haiti followed an exchange where Graham and Durbin suggested allowing vulnerable countries to remain in the U.S. visa lottery program under the “Temporary Protected Status,” but cutting the entire program by half.
All of the legislators were taken aback by Trump’s comment, the Post reported.
The White House declined to comment on the Post’s initial story, but later released a statement that did not deny Trump made the comments.
“Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people,” Raj Shah, the deputy White House press secretary, said in a statement. “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.”
Trump’s interest in Norway may stem from the fact that he met with the Norwegian prime minister Wednesday. Trude Måseide, head of communications for the Prime Minister of Norway, reached on her cell phone in her kitchen at midnight in Oslo, said she could not immediately comment.
The Haitian embassy didn’t immediately reply to a VICE News request for comment.
But this is not the first time that Trump has reportedly slurred Haitians: He also said that the 15,000 Haitian immigrants who’ve received visas to enter the United States in 2017 “all have AIDs,” according to a December New York Times story.
And Trump has a somewhat personal history with people from Haiti: Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, purportedly employs a number of Haitian workers, who are licensed to work through the H-2B visa. That visa program, which Trump has so far not objected to, allows low-paid laborers to work seasonally. And he’s benefitted from the problems plaguing Haiti in other ways, too — in 2010, the Red Cross paid to host its annual ball at Mar-a-Lago, with proceeds set to help victims of the 2010 Haitian earthquake and resulting devastation. That eighth anniversary of that earthquake is Friday.
During his campaign, Trump reassured Haitian American voters in Miami’s Little Haiti that he shared “a lot of common values” with them.
“Whether you vote for me or not I really want to be your biggest champion,” he told them.
The political backlash to the comments has already begun.
“Under no circumstances is it acceptable to degrade, denigrate, or dehumanize #TPS immigrants,” Florida Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo tweeted, referring to Temporary Protection Status recipients. “The White House must immediately explain the situation and leave no doubt regarding what was said and in what context.”
Trump's comments place America's global moral standing at risk, said Hady Amr, a former state department official under President Barack Obama.
"America's leadership of the Free World is based not only on our military strength, not only on our economic strength, but also on the moral foundations of the idea of America as exemplified in the poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty in NY Harbor not far from where President Trump grew up," said Amr. "Without that moral leadership, America is not seen as leader of the free world."
Greg Walters contributed to this report.