White House does not deny Trump used racist, vulgar language to disparage non-white countries

More Norway, less El Salvador.

CREDIT: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
CREDIT: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Immigration reform talks reportedly grew heated on Thursday as President Trump lashed out at the nationalities of many of the immigrants drawn to the United States, lamenting people born in what he characterized as “shithole” countries.

In a statement released early Thursday evening, the White House responded to reports of the president’s “shithole” comments — but did not deny that Trump had used that wording to disparage immigrants.

According to the Washington Post, an Oval Office meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers spiraled when they proposed restoring Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to immigrants from a number of countries.

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“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” the president reportedly asked, referencing immigrants from countries like El Salvador and Haiti, where violence and a shortage of opportunities often spur migration north. The Post reported that Trump then questioned why citizens from Western European countries were not drawn to the United States. The president reportedly named the affluent country of Norway, whose prime minister met with Trump on Wednesday.

Attendees at the meeting included Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), both of whom had expected to meet with the president alone. Instead, they were joined by a number of hardline immigration opponents, including Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR).

Trump’s most recent comments come as lawmakers struggle to reach a deal on immigration reform. A sticking point has emerged over protections for young undocumented immigrants previously shielded temporarily from deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Trump ended DACA in September, leaving around 800,000 recipients — also called DREAMers — in a state of limbo.

In addition to DACA protections, a number of lawmakers are also proposing the restoration of TPS for hundreds of thousands of current U.S. residents. The Trump administration has been slowly targeting TPS recipients and announced on Monday that protections for 200,000 Salvadorans will come to an end by next September.

Trump has repeatedly expressed resistance to the idea of immigration from a number of non-European countries. The New York Times reported that during a meeting in June, the president bemoaned that Haitian immigrants “all have AIDS”; asserted that Afghani immigrants hail from a country rife with extremists; and worried that Nigerian immigrants would never “go back to their huts” after seeing the United States.

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“The president will only accept an immigration deal that adequately addresses the visa lottery system and chain migration,” the statement read. “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.”

The White House has disputed the accuracy of those reported comments, but they reflect much of the president’s rhetoric and policy priorities. Trump has called repeatedly for a ban on Muslims from multiple countries while seeking actively to crack down on immigration across the board. In addition to singling out undocumented immigrants, the White House has also targeted H-1B visas for highly-skilled immigrants working in a variety of sectors and the diversity visa lottery, which caters to citizens from countries underrepresented in the United States — namely, Eastern European and African nations.

While Sen. Jeff Flake (R-OR) announced earlier on Thursday that a bipartisan group of senators had reached consensus on an immigration bill, a White House aide told reporters that a deal approved by the president was nowhere close to surfacing. Without a deal, a number of lawmakers may refuse to move forward on funding the government, potentially sparking a shutdown on January 19.