Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade’s Republican mayor calls Trump’s reported slander of Haiti “shameful” if true

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez outside of his County Hall offices in November 2016.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez outside of his County Hall offices in November 2016. BY DOUGLAS HANKS

Miami-Dade’s Republican mayor condemned as “shameful” President Donald Trump’s reported use of “shithole” to describe Haiti and other countries, releasing a sharp rebuke of a president who has singled out the mayor for praise from the White House.

“If true, President Trump’s remarks are very unfortunate and shameful,” Mayor Carlos Gimenez said in the statement issued after 10 p.m. Thursday.

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The statement came hours after first reports of Trump’s use of the vulgarity in an Oval Office discussion with senators about U.S. immigration policy. After mentions of protections for residents from Haiti, El Salvador and some African nations, Trump reportedly asked: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” according to the Washington Post.

The Cuban-born Gimenez used his statement to highlight Miami-Dade’s immigrant-rich population, including one of the largest concentrations of former Haitian residents in the country.

“As Mayor of Miami-Dade County, I have personally experienced the contributions of the thousands of Haitian-Americans, Salvadorans and other residents from throughout the world who call our community home,” Gimenez said. “I can attest to their hopes to build better lives for their familes and their great contributions to our beautiful community and the United States.”

[Read more reaction from South Florida politicians to the president’s reported “shithole” comments.]

Gimenez has taken heat for accepting Trump’s demand that local governments detain immigration offenders booked on local criminal charges but otherwise free to go. Gimenez, who backed Hillary Clinton during his own reelection race in 2016, was the only big-city mayor to announce a change in policy to comply with Trump’s immigration crackdown just days after the new president took office. Gimenez’s dropping Miami-Dade’s “sanctuary” protections for immigration offenders prompted Trump to call him “Strong!” in a tweet.

Hours before Attorney General Jeff Sessions arrived in Miami to deliver an August speech praising Gimenez and Miami-Dade for its new detention policy, the mayor issued a statement criticizing Trump’s comments that seemed to minimize racist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Va. Gimenez wrote there should be no “ambiguity” about the bigotry on display there.

It was the first statement issued from Gimenez’s office explicitly criticizing Trump, and the one issued Thursday on the president’s reported “shithole” comments is the second.

Also Thursday night, Miami’s new Republican mayor, Francis Suarez, condemned the president’s reported comments. “I strongly reject the denigrating comments attributed to the President this afternoon,” he wrote. “If true, they show a lack of respect and appreciation for vibrant and diverse cities like ours.”

Other county leaders reacted to Trump’s reported Oval Office comments, which included a demand that Haitians in particular not be included in any immigration deal. “Why do we need more Haitians?” Trump asked, according to accounts of the meeting reported by the Post and NBC News. “Take them out.” The White House issued a statement that did not deny the media reports, but emphasized the president’s determination to put America first.

Jean Monestime, Miami-Dade’s first Haitian-American county commissioner and a Democrat, posted a statement on Facebook that treated the president’s reported comments as fact.

“I strongly condemn Mr. Trump’s comments about immigrants from El Salvador, Africa and Haiti,” Monestime wrote. “Mr. Trump surely does not understand that what makes America Great is its diversity stemming from the immigration of the ‘poor, the tired and the huddled masses.’”

Esteban “Steve” Bovo, a Cuban-American Republican who succeeded Monestime as the commission’s chairman, issued a statement with praise for Haitians but no criticism for the president. “The Haitian community has added to the fabric that makes our community so unique and vibrant especially in South Florida,” Bovo wrote in a post on his chairman’s Twitter account. “I’m proud to represent a diverse community from all backgrounds.”

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