On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that President Trump met with members of Congress over his prospective immigration deal on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) plan. Trump presumably wants to trade amnesty for so-called DREAMers for funding for a border wall, an end to chain migration, an increase in E-verify mandates, and an end to the so-called diversity visa lottery, which favors immigrants from non-European countries.
It was this last point that got President Trump’s goat during the meeting, according to the Post. They reported that Trump lost his temper and stated, “Why are we having all these people from s***hole countries come here?” He was apparently referring specifically to African countries and Haiti, and he contrasted those countries with Norway. Just this week, the administration removed protections for refugees from El Salvador.
The White House released a statement that didn’t exactly deny the account:
Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people. The President will only accept an immigration deal that adequately addresses the visa lottery system and chain migration – two programs that hurt our economy and allow terrorists into our country. 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. 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.
We certainly shouldn’t be evaluating people solely based on the countries from whence they spring; we should be evaluating them as individuals, if possible. Some of our best and brightest immigrants come from countries that could easily be termed “s***holes” — that’s why they’re leaving their countries of origin. The entire purpose of ending the diversity visa lottery would be to stop treating immigrants as classes from particular countries, and instead treat them on a one-by-one basis.
With that said, the implication that Trump is a racist because he favors some countries over others is somewhat silly. The diversity visa lottery assumes precisely the same thing — that countries that are worse off ought to send us more citizens because they are worse off. Critics immediately leaped to call Trump racist on the basis of his “s***hole” statements — the suggestion being that he’s not evaluating the quality of countries but the race of those who inhabit them. The idea is that Trump must want to ban Africans, and so he’s using the excuse that they come from “s***hole” countries.
That’s assuming facts not in evidence. There are indeed countries that could crudely be termed “s***holes.” Haiti has a life expectancy of 63 years, an annual per capita income of $736, and a 61% literacy rate. Haiti is not a well-run country. It's a mess. Some countries are worse than others. To suggest that all countries are equal in quality or governed decently would be counterfactual in the extreme. It would also be counterfactual to suggest that if we were going to judge a priori which countries’ citizens would be most likely to assimilate well to American culture and values, citizens of those countries that are governed in ways more akin to those of the United States wouldn’t have an advantage. The average British citizen will likely have an easier time integrating to American culture than the average Russian citizen, for example. That has nothing to do with race. Not all countries are equally Western, and that does have some impact on the learning curve of the average person from those countries.
Again, this should be a moot point — and this is what Trump gets wrong. There’s no need to determine whether we prioritize a Russian immigrant over a British immigrant. That’s one factor among many. We ought to end the diversity visa lottery and select the best and brightest wherever they come from. But if the media think that Trump will be punished by the public for his crudity, or for misconstruing the point of an individual merit-based immigration policy, they haven’t been watching for the last two years.