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Minnesota immigrants react to Trump’s ‘shithole’ comments

Today, Minnesota has more than 455,000 foreign-born residents, and 1 in 6 children born in Minnesota now has at least one immigrant parent.

Alhaaji Mohamed Bah, president of Guinea Association of Minnesota, said when he heard about Trump’s comments, he thought about the negative impact it might have on his young daughters and the thousands of students of African descent he works with at the Osseo Area School district.
MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi

President Donald Trump’s comments referring to Haiti and nations in African as “shithole countries” has spurred sharp criticisms and a social media uproar from black immigrants in Minnesota to heads of state in Africa.   

The news surfaced on Thursday after Trump reportedly told lawmakers that he’d rather have immigrants from Norway than from “shithole countries” like Haiti and African nations during a meeting to discuss a deal that would in part protect immigrants with Temporary Protected Status.   

“It was extreme racism,” said Jean Dumas, a first-generation Haitian-American who studies at St. Cloud State University. “For him to attack the whole continent of Africa and Haiti, that says a lot about him.”

Dumas wasn’t surprised when he learned about the comments, adding that it wasn’t the first time that Trump has employed despairing comments against immigrants and people of color.   

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Referring to a recent New York Times report, Dumas noted that Trump said during a meeting with his national security team that there shouldn’t be more Haitian immigrants entering the U.S. because they “all have AIDS.”

“I feel like he’s attacking our country and our morals,” Dumas said. “It’s really sad. We are a great people and we work hard. Haiti has always been a strong country; it’s always been supportive to other countries; it’s always looked out for other people, even when we didn’t have much.” 

Dumas’ family is among waves of immigrants and refugees who in recent decades escaped conflicts, persecutions or natural disasters in Central America, Southeast Asia, African and the Caribbean countries — and have made Minnesota their home.

Today, the state has more than 455,000 foreign-born residents, and 1 in 6 children born in Minnesota now has at least one immigrant parent.    

‘It’s bad for our children’

Abdullah Kiatamba, a Liberian-American who leads the nonprofit African Immigrant Services in Brooklyn Park, said the “shithole” remarks from the president paint a negative image of both black immigrants and their American-born children.

“It’s bad for our children and for our contributions to the United States,” Kiatamba said. “It makes us look like we’re trash, slums, dirt. These countries are not shitholes. These countries are beautiful and have produced some of the best leaders in the world, global icons like Nelson Mandela.”

Alhaaji Mohamed Bah, president of Guinea Association of Minnesota, said when he heard about Trump’s comments, he thought about the negative impact it might have on his young daughters and the thousands of students of African descent he works with at the Osseo Area School district. 

When these kids hear about the president say that their immigrant parents come from “shithole countries,” Bah noted, it could have an emotional and psychological impact on them.

“I have two daughters who have been asking me about why the president said what he said,” Bah added. “They asked me, ‘don’t they [people in Haiti and Africa] have houses there?’ I told them, ‘We have beautiful houses. We came here because of wars.’”

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Trump denies using word

Kiatamba, of the African Immigrant Services, added that he believes Trump’s comments reference institutionalized racism. “You’re telling them that their parents are from shithole countries,” he said of the children of black immigrants. “You’re telling them that white parents aren’t from shithole countries; black parents are from shithole countries.”

The Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, a group that advises the governor and legislators about issues that impact communities of African heritage in the state, condemned the president’s comment. “President Trump’s words were racist, xenophobic, and unhelpful in the midst of Congress working to find common sense solutions to the immigration crisis,” the group said in a statement.

African leaders around the continent have also reacted with anger. The African group of ambassadors to the United Nations, for example, issued a statement, saying they’re “extremely appalled at and strongly condemns the outrageous racist and xenophobic remarks attributed to the president of the United States of America” and demanding a retraction and apology.

Trump denied the “shithole” comment, though one senator who was at the meeting with him told the press that the president repeatedly used the word.