WASHINGTON — President Trump on Thursday balked at an immigration deal that would include protections for people from Haiti and African countries, demanding to know at a White House meeting why he should accept immigrants from “shithole countries” rather than people from places like Norway, according to people with direct knowledge of the conversation.
Mr. Trump’s remarks left members of Congress attending the meeting in the Cabinet Room alarmed and mystified. They were there discussing an emerging bipartisan deal to give legal status to immigrants illegally brought to the United States as children, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity without authorization to discuss the explosive proceedings of the private meeting.
When Mr. Trump heard that Haitians were among those who would benefit, he asked if they could be left out of the plan, according to the people familiar with the conversation, asking, “Why do we want people from Haiti here?”
The comments were reminiscent of ones the president made last year in an Oval Office meeting with Cabinet officials and administration aides, where he complained about admitting Haitians to the country, complaining that they all had AIDS, as well as Nigerians, who he said would never go back to their “huts,” according to officials who heard the statements in person or were briefed on the remarks by people who did. The White House vehemently denied last month that Mr. Trump made those remarks.
In a written statement on Thursday, Raj Shah, the White House deputy press secretary, did not deny the account or directly address Mr. Trump’s comments during the meeting.
“Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people,” Mr. Shah said. “Like other nations that have merit-based immigration, President Trump is fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation.”
The episode, first reported by The Washington Post, unfolded as Mr. Trump was hosting a meeting with Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, and Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, who are working to codify the protections in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA the Obama-era initiative that provided temporary work permits and reprieves from deportation to immigrants brought to the United States as children by their parents. Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and the majority leader; Senator David Perdue, Republican of Georgia; Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas; and Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, were also there.
The plan would also include some $2.7 million for border security and a grant of protected status for the parents of the so-called Dreamers, who would be barred from sponsoring their parents for citizenship.
Mr. Trump grew angry as the group detailed another aspect of the deal — a move to end the diversity visa lottery program and use some of the 50,000 visas to protect vulnerable populations who have been living in the United States under so-called Temporary Protected Status. That was when he asked about Haiti.
When the discussion turned to African nations, the people with knowledge of the conversation added, Mr. Trump asked why he would want “all these people from shithole countries,” adding that the United States should admit more people from places like Norway.