The Washington Post reports that lawmakers were taken aback today when Trump harshly criticized the idea of re-establishing immigrant protections for citizens of Haiti, El Salvador, and certain African countries. During an oval office meeting in which Senators discussed shifting green cards from a lottery drawing to substitute an eliminated protection program for Salvadorans, Trump reportedly asked, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” He then continued to suggest that the United States accept more immigrants from countries like Norway.
The Trump administration has not denied the remarks but has since released a statement. Without directly referring to Trump’s comments, White House spokesman Raj Shah wrote, “Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people.”
The incident comes just days after the Trump administration announced the end of a Temporary Protected Status program that has allowed around 200,000 Salvadorans to live and work in the United States for the past 15 years. The program was designed to provide safety and economic security after a devastating earthquake that struck the country in 2001. The remittances that protected workers send to El Salvador consist of more than 17% of its Gross Domestic Product.
Some Conservative pundits were quick to jump to Trump’s defense. Fox News host Tucker Carlson posted on Twitter, “Option A: El Salvador isn’t a ‘shithole’ so they don’t need 17 years of Temporary Protected Status, and migrants from there should be sent home immediately. Option B: El Salvador is, in fact, a ‘shithole.’” However, Trump also faced renewed disapproval from longtime critics – such as former Mexican President Vicente Fox. Fox asked Trump in a tweet, “With what authority do you proclaim who’s welcome in America and who’s not. America’s greatness is built on diversity, or have you forgotten your immigrant background, Donald?”
Trump’s remarks are a clear escalation in anti-immigrant rhetoric – the likes of which have not been seen since his days on the campaign trail. Trump infamously called Mexican immigrants “drug dealers, criminals, and rapists” during a campaign rally speech. His comments on accepting Norwegian immigrants instead of those from countries with darker-skinned citizens also draws fresh charges of racism, which reached fever pitch during the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville. After a weekend of violent protests, he made a series of controversial comments in which he blamed “both sides” for violence and defended the “Unite the Right” demonstration against charges of blanket racism.
President Trump’s also remarks come as congress struggles to work out a bipartisan deal to protect so-called “Dreamers” – immigrants brought to the United States while they were children – who were previously protected under Obama-era legislation.