DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Let's sum up President Trump's message on immigration yesterday. He would prefer people come to the U.S. from nations like Norway and not from Haiti - not from countries in Africa. He reportedly used a vulgar slur referring to African nations. The U.N. Office of Human Rights says the comment was racist. Now, Trump's disparaging comments about Haiti seemed to contradict what he told Haitian-American voters in September of 2016.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Whether you vote for me or you don't vote for me, I really will be your greatest champion. And I will be your champion.
GREENE: Was a different message yesterday. Trump reportedly made his comments during a meeting on immigration with a bipartisan group of senators. In our studio this morning, the Haitian ambassador to the United States Paul Altidor. Ambassador, thanks for coming in. We appreciate it.
PAUL ALTIDOR: Thank you for having me.
GREENE: And I do think we should note that this is the eighth anniversary of a devastating earthquake in your country. And we're certainly all thinking about the ongoing recovery efforts there.
ALTIDOR: That's correct. And it's quite regrettable that we're not discussing about the earthquake and how Haiti is moving forward. And yet, we are talking about something that is quite sad today.
GREENE: Well, unfortunately, I do need to talk to you about this because this was a comment by the president of the United States yesterday referring to your country. And I do want to ask what your reaction was.
ALTIDOR: Well, we are surprised, disappointed. Also, we want to condemn if the statements were made. We have not heard formally from the White House, from the State Department as to whether the statements were made. Whether or not the statements were made by the president or somebody at that meeting, unfortunately, we feel, once again, Haiti finds itself in the midst of a very negative narrative in the U.S. And we're hoping this opportunity - this conversation will be an opportunity to address the Haiti conversation in the U.S. once and for all. But we do regret what allegedly the president said about Haitians and other groups.
GREENE: Is your government talking about possible ways to respond to these comments?
ALTIDOR: Well, first, we - again, those statements have not been verified other than what we've been hearing in the press. So what - as a government, what we did - we did some (unintelligible) in Haiti to clarify, to at least say whether or not these statements were true. And if they were to be true, one, to put them into context. And if they were to be true, we hope there will be possibly an apology, again, for what was said here because we thought they were misplaced. They were misguided. And these type of statements do not help in terms of enforcing the relationship between Haiti and the United States.
If I may say, a lot is being said about immigration and immigrants, in particular Haitian immigrants. And unfortunately, it appears that if the president were to have said those things, we feel these statements would have been quite - he was misinformed or ill-advised on them, in part, because there's a long history between the people of Haiti and the people of the United States.
Haitians came here and fought in the American Independence War back in 1779. So as a people, as a country, we've been a partner. We've been a strong neighbor. We've been a good friend of the people of the United States. So - and today, Haitians are still here working hard, contributing to the social and economic fabric of this country. We are in universities. We are in nursing homes. We are everywhere in this country.
GREENE: Well, can I ask you about that contribution because when the White House was responding to all of this yesterday, the White House suggested that what the president is talking about - although, they did not neither confirm nor deny the exact comments, but that his essential argument is that preference should be given to immigrants into this country who are bigger contributors to the United States economy. If you had the chance to talk to him, what would you say to him in response?
ALTIDOR: Again, that's what I'm saying. This - there's a lot of misconception. There's a lot of cliches here about Haitian and our contribution to this society. The great city of Chicago was created by Haitian. And to this day, if you go on college campuses, if you're go in many - even if you go to NASA, there are Haitian scientists working there. We have - we've been great contributors of this country as Haitian immigrants, also many folks of Haitian descent.
We continue to do that in many communities, whether you go to Florida, whether here in Washington, D.C., in the DMV area, whether you go in Boston. In many parts of the country, Haitians have been great contributors to this country. So the notion that we're simply here to actually take advantage of the U.S. - it's actually misinformed information. So those cliches - we hope as a result of the statement that were allegedly made, we can begin to move away from those narratives because they're actually not true.
GREENE: Haiti's ambassador to the United States, Paul Altidor, joining us in our studios this morning. Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much. We really appreciate it.
ALTIDOR: It's a pleasure. Like I said, we hope that this would have been an opportunity to talk about the earthquake and the good progress the country of Haiti's making today. Thank you so much.
GREENE: As I said, we're all thinking about the recovery efforts. I know it's been a long, long journey.
ALTIDOR: Thank you.
GREENE: I want to turn briefly to NPR congressional correspondent, Scott Detrow. Scott, President Trump's comment overshadowed a meeting with senators at the White House - a bipartisan group that seemed to have worked out an immigration deal. Does this now blow that up?
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: It's unclear. They had put together a bill, they said, did everything Trump asked. This morning Trump said that he thought that deal was a big step backwards. The wall wasn't properly funded among other things. It's really different than what Trump said Tuesday. I'll just read that quote - this is Tuesday, a meeting with lawmakers from both parties - "I'll be signing it. I'm not going to say, oh, gee, I want this or that. I'll be signing it."
Now he's been presented with a deal. He seems to have a lot of problems with it. The senators involved in the negotiations say they're going to keep pressing and making their case to both President Trump and to Congress.
GREENE: All right, NPR's Scott Detrow. Scott, thanks.
DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.