The hardest part for Amina Hassan was explaining it to her kids.
Should she tell them that President Donald Trump didn’t mean to include her family’s homeland of Somalia when he called Haiti, El Salvador and African nations “s---hole countries” Thursday? Should she lie and say the vulgarity was a misunderstanding? Should she just ignore it completely?
Looking at her babies, ages 12, 14 and 17, Hassan found it hard to do anything but simply tell them how she felt: “We are getting insulted.”
After fleeing a civil war in her country and making a new home in Utah, after spending nearly two decades in the United States and becoming a citizen, she did not expect that. Not “from our leader.”
“It was hateful,” Hassan said Friday, standing outside the state Capitol in a black hijab. She was there to celebrate her friend, Amina Mohamed, who had just taken the oath of allegiance during the state’s first naturalization ceremony this year.
Mohamed waved a tiny American flag and sang about how “happy, happy, happy” she was. Hassan smiled but also lingered over the president’s comment.
Trump made the remark, first reported by The Washington Post, during a meeting with lawmakers to discuss a bipartisan immigration deal. It came at the heels of his decisions to remove protected status for 60,000 Haitians and 200,000 Salvadorans living in the United States (as well as his attempts to impose a travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries last year).
When members of Congress brought up restoring those protections, the president apparently balked.
“Why are we having all these people from s---hole countries come here?” he reportedly said, suggesting that the United States should bring in more people from places like Norway. He later denied using that language.
Still, Utah Rep. Mia Love, a Utah Republican and the only Haitian-American in Congress, quickly called on Trump to apologize.
“The president’[s] comments are unkind, divisive, elitist and fly in the face of our nation’s values,” she said in a statement, noting that her parents, Mary and Jean Maxime Bourdeau, emigrated from Haiti and made their home in America.
Rep. Chris Stewart pledged to find a legislative fix “that brings clarity to the immigration process and security to America’s border.” And Rep. John Curtis said we should “let in immigrants based on who they are — not their country of origin.”
Many in Utah’s immigrant community, though, say Trump’s comment felt like a grenade: They’re still trying to determine if it will explode into more threatening policies.
After three years in a refugee camp, Said Bigirimana came to the United States in 2013 to escape war. He worries the president might try to send him back to Burundi, a small country in central Africa.
Bigirimana works with other immigrants at Catholic Community Services, who have grown increasingly concerned about their new refuge during Trump’s first year in office.
“Things can change. He can say even people who have been here for awhile have to leave,” Bigirimana said. “It makes me worry … It makes me feel unwelcome.”
He says it’s disappointing. Hassan says it’s just sad. And Sophia Lundy, who first came to the United States from Haiti 10 years ago, says it’s mostly ignorance.
Her homeland is full of beaches and palm trees, organic farming and colorful houses. There’s “beauty, strength, hope, resilience, courage,” she said. Only people who haven’t visited the island, Lundy believes, would call it a “s---hole.”
Now an Ogden resident and business development director for Utah’s Haitian American Chamber of Commerce, she visits the country about once a year to see family, returning each time to the suburbs of Port-au-Prince where she grew up.
Trump should remember, Lundy said, that the United States was built by immigrants — much like Utah, whose Mormon settlers came to the area after fleeing from discrimination. Since 1970, more than 60,000 refugees have relocated to the state, with about 1,200 coming annually in recent years.
After the citizenship event Friday, where people were sworn in under a mural of the Mormon pioneers and Hassan cheered on her friend, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert sent out a tweet quoting the Statue of Liberty. Seemingly a reaction to Trump, his spokesman and deputy chief of staff Paul Edwards said “rather than responding to the president, [the governor] chose to speak at the naturalization ceremony and post his welcome to immigrants from all countries on his social-media platforms.”
Included with Herbert’s message was a photo of smiling refugees.