President Donald Trump has questioned why the U.S. would want to have immigrants from Haiti and African nations, referring to some as “shithole countries,” according to two sources familiar with the comments.
Trump’s remarks, made in the White House, came as Democratic Senator Dick Durbin and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham briefed the president on a newly-drafted immigration bill being touted by a bipartisan group of senators, according to the sources, who asked not to be identified.
Sources said government officials were present during the conversation.
The lawmakers were describing how certain immigration programs operate, including one to give safe haven in the United States to people from countries suffering from natural disasters or civil strife.
One of the sources who was briefed on the conversation said that Trump said, “Why do we want all these people from Africa here?
“They’re shithole countries … We should have more people from Norway.”
The second source familiar with the conversation, said Trump, who has vowed to clamp down on illegal immigration, also questioned the need for Haitians in the United States.
Many Democrats and some Republican lawmakers slammed the president for his remarks.
Republican U.S. Representative Mia Love, a daughter of Haitian immigrants, said the comments were “unkind, divisive, elitist, and fly in the face of our nation’s values”.
Love called on Trump to apologise to the American people and to the countries he denigrated.
Another Republican Representative, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who was born in Cuba and whose south Florida district includes many Haitian immigrants, said: “Language like that shouldn’t be heard in locker rooms and it shouldn’t be heard in the White House.”
Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, a frequent Trump critic, said the president’s comment “smacks of blatant racism, the most odious and insidious racism masquerading poorly as immigration policy.”
In an apparent response to his critics, Trump took to Twitter late on Thursday night.
Trump tweeted: “The Democrats seem intent on having people and drugs pour into our country from the Southern Border, risking thousands of lives in the process.
“It is my duty to protect the lives and safety of all Americans. We must build a Great Wall, think Merit and end Lottery & Chain. USA!”
The programme that was being discussed at the White House is called Temporary Protected Status.
In November, the Trump administration decided to end the status for immigrants from Haiti and Nicaragua.
It gave the approximately 59,000 Haitian immigrants who had been granted the status until July 2019 to return home or legalise their presence in the U.S.
Nicaraguans were given until January 2019.
On Monday, Trump moved to end the status for immigrants from El Salvador, which could result in 200,000 Salvadorans legally in the United States being deported, beginning in September of 2019.