Leaders in the state’s immigrant community said President Donald Trump was being ignorant and racist when he talked at a White House meeting this week about limiting immigration from “shithole” nations, including Haiti, El Salvador and African countries.
“He’s never been to any of these countries and he’s making massive, profoundly unfair generalizations about nations of people,” said Claudia Connor, president and CEO of the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and
Connor’s organization, based in Bridgeport, helps to resettle refugees — with a focus on the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa — and provides a wide range of services to immigrants from all countries.
Trump, in the meeting with lawmakers in the Oval Office Thursday, suggested that the United States should bring more people from countries like Norway, whose prime minister he met this week, according to people at the meeting.
“It feels extremely unacceptable and very disheartening to know that he is kind of writing off entire nations of people and in the same breath saying he would rather accept people from a European country that is 80 percent white,” Connor said. “As many of our elected officials and others are saying, there’s really only way to interpret this — that he is making racist statements and making generalizations based on race and nationality.”
Marilyn Lowney, executive director of the Norwich-based Haitian Health Foundation, said Haitians who immigrate to the U.S. have helped make the country more vibrant and diverse.
“We have stood side by side with the Haitian people for the last 35 years,” she said. “Haiti is a country rich in culture which has contributed greatly to world history.”
The nonprofit runs a clinic in the rural city of Jérémie and counts many Haitians among its workers.
State Sen. Len Fasano of North Haven, the Republican leader of the state Senate, has frequently refrained from weighing in on controversies involving Trump, but his office issued a statement Friday morning condemning the president’s remarks and calling on him to apologize.
“The comments on immigration reported to have been said by the president are beyond inappropriate and offensive,” Fasano said. “The Republican Party is one of inclusivity and rooted in the core value of providing all people the opportunity to achieve the American dream. The statements reported yesterday fly in the face of what it means to be a Republican and an American.”
Democratic politicians from Connecticut slammed Trump, including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who said the president’s comments were “rooted in racism and intolerance.”
“Such comments are unbecoming of a U.S. president and bring shame to our nation,” he said in a written statement. “President Trump owes the people of America, and those of any nation he so crassly denigrated … an apology.”
On Friday evening, Malloy called for the Haitian flag to be flown at the governor’s residence “in solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of Haitian-Americans and all other immigrant groups who live in the United States and who have been so crudely and wrongly disparaged by President Trump.”
The flag was also being flown over city hall in Hartford.
“Hartford is the proud home of a large and strong West Indian community — and we’re proud to fly the Haitian flag on city hall today,” Mayor Luke Bronin said in a tweet.
Trump denied making the “shithole” remark in a tweet Friday, but U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who was at the meeting, confirmed the president had said what was reported by multiple news outlets: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”
“Having spoken to my colleagues there’s no question that he used that word,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Friday. “He should admit it and apologize. Not duck and dodge … and deny it.”
Blumenthal said Trump’s remarks were inflammatory and would make it more difficult for Democrats and Republicans to work together on immigration policy.
“The president’s comments in that meeting yesterday are as unacceptable as they are unsurprising,” Sen. Chris Murphy said at a news conference in Hartford. “Unfortunately, we’re pretty used to hearing outrageous things come out of the presidents mouth.”
Connor, Lowney and others noted that Haiti, in particular has faced crippling natural disasters — including a 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew in 2016 — that would be difficult for any nation to recover from.
“All of those countries that he has written off in such crude ways suffer from extraordinary circumstances beyond the control of people that live there,” Connor said.