U.S President Donald Trump has denied claims that he is racist, after a row broke out when he described immigrants from Haiti and African countries as coming from “shithole countries.”
Mr Trump reportedly used the term last week during a bipartisan Oval Office meeting on immigration reforms.
Over the past couple of weeks, Trump’s administration has been withdrawing Temporary Protected Status (TPS) from a number of nationalities currently living in the country.
Reports later emerged in US media that Trump had asked during the meeting with lawmakers, "Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?"
Trump was said to have told them that instead of granting temporary residency to citizens of countries hit by natural disasters, war or epidemics, the U.S should instead be taking in migrants from countries like Norway.
He however said he was “ready, willing and able” to reach a deal to protect illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children from being deported but that he did not believe Democrats wanted an agreement. He tweeted earlier on Sunday that the existing program would “probably” be discontinued.
The comments led to harsh recriminations from Democrats and Republicans alike, with some critics accusing Trump of racism, even as bipartisan talks continued in the U.S. Congress to seek a bipartisan compromise to salvage the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA).
Asked by a reporter in Florida whether he was a racist, Trump said: “No. I‘m not a racist. I‘m the least racist person you have ever interviewed.”
Trump has threatened to end DACA, but he seemed to keep the door open for a deal when he told reporters before dinner on Sunday night: “We’re ready, willing and able to make a deal on DACA, but I don’t think the Democrats want to make a deal. The Democrats are the ones that aren’t going to make a deal.”
Efforts to extend the program are further complicated because it could make a funding bill to avert a government shutdown due Friday more difficult.
“DACA is probably dead because the Democrats don’t really want it, they just want to talk and take desperately needed money away from our military,” Trump said earlier on Twitter.
This is the first time the president has responded directly to the racism accusations.
He made the denial to White House press pool reporters at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach on Sunday night.