Nation

Out of chaos, Trump reshapes immigration

President Trump greeted people Friday after Air Force One landed in Florida. At a meeting earlier this year, Trump groused that 15,000 Haitian immigrants who arrived in the country early this year “all had AIDS,” according to one person who attended the meeting and another person who was briefed about it by someone else who was there.
Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press
President Trump greeted people Friday after Air Force One landed in Florida. At a meeting earlier this year, Trump groused that 15,000 Haitian immigrants who arrived in the country early this year “all had AIDS,” according to one person who attended the meeting and another person who was briefed about it by someone else who was there.

WASHINGTON — Late to his own meeting and waving a sheet of numbers, President Trump stormed into the Oval Office one day in June, plainly enraged.

Five months before, Trump had dispatched federal officers to the nation’s airports to stop travelers from several Muslim countries from entering the United States in a dramatic demonstration of how he would deliver on his campaign promise to fortify the nation’s borders.

But so many foreigners had flooded into the country since January, he vented to his national security team, that it was making a mockery of his pledge.

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Friends were calling to say he looked like a fool, Trump said.

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According to six officials who attended or were briefed about the meeting, Trump then began reading aloud from the document, which his domestic policy adviser, Stephen Miller, had given him just before the meeting.

The document listed how many immigrants had received visas to enter the United States in 2017.

More than 2,500 were from Afghanistan, a terrorist haven, the president complained.

Haiti had sent 15,000 people. They “all have AIDS,” he grumbled, according to one person who attended the meeting and another person who was briefed about it by someone else who was there.

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Forty thousand had come from Nigeria, Trump added. Once they had seen the United States, they would never “go back to their huts” in Africa, recalled the two officials, who asked for anonymity to discuss a sensitive conversation in the Oval Office.

As the meeting continued, John F. Kelly, then the secretary of homeland security, and Rex W. Tillerson, the secretary of state, tried to interject, explaining that many were short-term travelers making one-time visits.

But as the president continued, Kelly and Miller turned their ire on Tillerson, blaming him for the influx of foreigners and prompting the secretary of state to throw up his arms in frustration.

If he was so bad at his job, maybe he should stop issuing visas altogether, Tillerson fired back.

Tempers flared, and Kelly asked that the room be cleared of staff members. But even after the door to the Oval Office was closed, aides could still hear the president berating his most senior advisers.

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Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, denied Saturday morning that Trump had made derogatory statements about immigrants during the meeting.

“General Kelly, General McMaster, Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Nielsen and all other senior staff actually in the meeting deny these outrageous claims,” she said, referring to the White House chief of staff, the national security adviser, and the secretaries of state and homeland security. “It’s both sad and telling The New York Times would print the lies of their anonymous ‘sources’ anyway.”

While the White House did not deny the overall description of the meeting, officials strenuously insisted that Trump never used the words “AIDS” or “huts” to describe people from any country.

Also, on Saturday, a federal judge in Seattle partially lifted a Trump administration ban on certain refugees after two groups argued that the policy prevented people from some mostly Muslim countries from reuniting with family living legally in the United States.

US District Judge James Robart heard arguments Thursday in lawsuits from the American Civil Liberties Union and Jewish Family Service, which say the ban causes irreparable harm and puts some people at risk. Government lawyers argued that the ban is needed to protect national security.

Robart ordered the federal government to process certain refugee applications. He said his order applies to people ‘‘with a bona fide relationship to a person or entity within the United States.’’

Trump restarted the refugee program in October ‘‘with enhanced vetting capabilities.’’

The day before his executive order, Tillerson, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, and Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats sent a memo to Trump saying certain refugees must be banned unless additional security measures are implemented.

It applies to the spouses and minor children of refugees who have already settled in the United States and suspends the refugee program for people coming from 11 countries, nine of which are mostly Muslim.

In his decision, Robart wrote that ‘‘former officials detailed concretely how the Agency Memo will harm the United States’ national security and foreign policy interests.’’

Robart said his order restores refugee procedures in programs to what they were before the memo and noted that this already includes very thorough vetting of individuals.

In a statement, Department of Justice spokeswoman Lauren Ehrsam said: ‘‘We disagree with the Court’s ruling and are currently evaluating the next steps.’’

The ACLU argued the memo provided no evidence for why additional security was needed and didn’t specify a timeframe for implementing the changes.

The groups say the process for imposing the policy violated a federal law.

August Flentje, a Justice Department attorney, told the judge that the ban is temporary and ‘‘is a reasonable and appropriate way for agency heads to tackle gaps’’ in the screening process.

The lawsuits from the two groups were consolidated and represent refugees who have been blocked from entering the country.

The ACLU represents a Somali man living in Washington state who is trying to bring his family to the United States. They have gone through extensive vetting, have passed security and medical clearances, and just need travel papers, but those were denied after the ban.

Lisa Nowlin, staff attorney for the ACLU of Washington, said in a statement they were happy for their client — ‘‘who has not yet had the opportunity to celebrate a single birthday with his younger son in person — will soon have the opportunity to hold his children, hug his wife in the very near future, and be together again as a family for the first time in four years.’’

Two other refugees included in the Jewish Family Service lawsuit are former Iraqi interpreters for the U.S. Army whose lives are at risk because of their service.

Another is a transgender woman in Egypt ‘‘living in such extremely dangerous circumstances that the U.S. government itself had expedited her case until the ban came down,’’ said Mariko Hirose, a lawyer with the Jewish Family Service case.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.