US President Donald Trump on Friday said a bipartisan Senate immigration plan would force the United States to admit people from “high crime” countries “doing badly,” and denied using a vulgar reference in comments decried as racist.
Trump denounced the deal reached by a group of six Republican and Democratic senators as too weak and insisted he did not use the word “shithole” to describe Haiti and African countries.
US Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, who was at a White House meeting on immigration on Thursday where Trump reportedly made the remarks, confirmed to reporters on Friday that Trump used “vile, vulgar” language, including “shithole.”
Reports of the president’s language referring to people of colour from the other countries drew criticism from US lawmakers of both major parties and critics abroad who said they could not be described as anything but racist.
Amid the furore the president criticised the immigration proposal. “The so-called bipartisan Daca deal presented yesterday to myself and a group of Republican Senators and Congressmen was a big step backwards,” Trump said in a series of tweets on Friday.
The Senate group has been working for months to craft legislation that would protect 700,000 children who were brought to the United States as illegal immigrants and later given protection from deportation under a program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or Daca.
The tentative deal also addresses border security, including a border wall, the diversity visa lottery and chain migration.
“Wall was not properly funded, Chain & Lottery were made worse and USA would be forced to take large numbers of people from high crime countries which are doing badly,” Trump wrote.
The Republican president sought to walk back comments he reportedly made to senators on Thursday at the meeting, saying, “The language used by me at the Daca meeting was tough, but this was not the language used.”
Trump had questioned why the United States would want to accept immigrants from Haiti and African nations, referring to some as “shithole countries,” according to two sources familiar with the comments.
Trump on Friday denied saying “anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country.”
The reported language was the latest in a long string of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim comments by Trump that have been condemned as racist. He also blamed “both sides” after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned violent.
The president’s latest comments drew reactions from abroad on Friday.
In Geneva, the United Nations human rights office said the “racist” remarks would incite xenophobia.
“These are shocking and shameful comments from the President of the United States. There is no other word one can use but ‘racist,'” UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a Geneva news briefing.
Trump’s comments are extremely offensive to South Africa, said Jessie Duarte, a senior official with the ruling African National Congress. “Ours is not a shithole country. Neither is Haiti or any other country in distress,” she said.
At the White House meeting Durbin and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham briefed the president on the newly drafted, bipartisan immigration bill.
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.
Trump said, “Why do we want all these people from Africa here? They’re shithole countries … We should have more people from Norway,” according to one source briefed on the conversation.
“On behalf of Norway: Thanks, but no thanks,” tweeted Torbjoern Saetre, a Norwegian politician on Friday.