In the midst of a meeting Thursday afternoon that was ostensibly about making a deal on the Dream Act and for immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and multiple African countries, President Donald Trump asked, "Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” (Two people familiar with the meeting told the Washington Post he was referring to African countries and Haiti.) According to the Post, "he then suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries like Norway, whose prime minister he met yesterday." Wonder what is the difference between the demographics of those countries?
Trump has previously expressed his distaste for Haiti and certain African countries, Nigeria in particular, in a closed-door national security team meeting in June. According to a New York Times report on the meeting, he said Haitians "all have AIDS" and that the 40,000 Nigerians who immigrated to the U.S. would never, “go back to their huts” once they had seen America. Thursday's meeting was even more alarming, however, as his comments were made in the presence of his staff, as well as multiple elected lawmakers.
Earlier in the day, reports from the Daily Beast and others suggested that the administration and congressional leaders were close to reaching a deal on immigration, specifically on legal protections for the 800,000 Americans who came to the United States as children of undocumented parents, and have spent their entire lives and careers in the United States. That deal, according to the Daily Beast, would "codify the legal protections for so-called Dreamers that Trump rescinded when he ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that began under his predecessor. The deal also seeks to undo another Trump decision: the termination of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for certain groups of immigrants, including Salvadorans, 200,000 of whom could face an end to their legal status in 2019."
In exchange, Trump would get a few policy victories of his own, namely revamping though not ending the diversity lottery, and by changing "the formula for so-called chain migration—the policy whereby lawful permanent residents can sponsor immigrants to the U.S.—...re-drawn in a way that alters the ability of those Dreamers to sponsor their relatives for legal status."
Trump's racist outburst wasn't the only surprise. Senators Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin, the authors of a bipartisan Dream Act, expected to be meeting with Trump alone, but as the Post reports, "were surprised to find immigration hardliners such as Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), at the meeting."
The president's own staff, however, seems conflicted on the meeting's outcome. Marc Short, a legislative aide, told the Post that they were "nowhere near" a deal. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, by contrast, said, "We still think we can get there,” at Thursday's press briefing.
Immigration advocates are not holding their breath for a White House fix, and instead are focusing on attaching a Dream Act to the Continuing Resolution for the budget, set to be voted on January 19. As Angel Padilla, policy director of Indivisible, told AlterNet in a phone interview, "a DACA fix is not going to come from the White House. It's going to come from Congress." Indivisible and other activists think "Democrats have leverage," and that unlike in December, they should be willing to vote against a budget resolution, and shut down the government, if there is no Dream Act. Padilla continued, "There's a chance on January 19 for D[emocrat]s to force the issue, and we're hoping they will do it, use their leverage to force a Dream Act in January."
It remains to be seen whether today's remarks will help Democrats grow the spine they need in order to make Padilla's hope a reality.