President Donald Trump has questioned why the US should allow more immigrants from “shithole countries” during a meeting with legislators about a proposed bipartisan deal on immigration.
Mr Trump made the profane remark after Democratic senator Richard Durbin told him a lottery for visas would be ended under the proposal, according to several sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In exchange, Mr Durbin said people fleeing from countries suffering from natural disasters or civil strife, including Haiti and El Salvador, would be allowed to stay in the US.
Mr Trump specifically questioned why the US would want to admit more people from Haiti, and also mentioned Africa, the sources said.
One of the sources who was briefed on the conversation quoted Mr Trump as saying: “Why do we want all these people from Africa here? They’re shithole countries… We should have more people from Norway.”
The White House did not deny the account of Mr Trump’s use of language, but instead suggested the President was “fighting for permanent solutions” that strengthen the nation, in part through the use of a merit-based immigration system.
“Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people,” White House spokesman Raj Shah said in a statement.
“He will always reject temporary, weak and dangerous stopgap measures that threaten the lives of hardworking Americans, and undercut immigrants who seek a better life in the United States through a legal pathway.”
Some Democrats seized on Mr Trump’s comment to suggest he is anti-immigrant.
“We always knew that President Trump doesn’t like people from certain countries or people or certain colours,” congressman Luis Gutierrez said.
“We can now we say with 100% confidence that the president is a racist who does not share the values enshrined in our Constitution.”
Illinois Senator Kwame Raoul, whose parents came from Haiti to the US in the 1950s, said Mr Trump had “demonstrated himself to be unfit, unknowledgeable about the history of this country and the history of contributions that immigrants, particularly Haitian immigrants, have made to this country.”
Leaders of some African countries have been reluctant to criticise Mr Trump’s words directly, many finding themselves in an awkward position as recipients of US aids.
South Sudanese government spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said: “Unless it was specifically said about South Sudan, we have nothing to say.”
But African media were more forthcoming with criticism, with South Africa’s Daily Maverick saying: “Casual Friday at the White House is soon to include hoods and tiki torches at this rate”.