When an immigration reform discussion this week turned to the subject of Haiti, El Salvador, and various African countries, President Trump asked legislators in attendance, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” He then suggested America bring in more people from countries like Norway instead. His words have upset many. Of course it is not the first time President Trump has said something completely and utterly crass—and, yes—downright racist, but I wanted to take a few moments to share my personal sentiments on the matter.
Trump’s remarks were aimed at several countries, but it is Haiti that I want to focus on. I was fortunate enough to spend time there as a young man delivering medical supplies to different clinics around the country. As many already know, poverty in Haiti is terrible and it is the worst in the Western Hemisphere. I had never seen malnutrition or people dying from easily treatable diseases until I traveled there.
One of the villages I visited on my trip in Haiti was one my translator knew very well. He had come there a few years earlier and drilled a water well for the villagers. Up until that point fetching water for daily use required a walk of about two miles to the next closest source of water, and then another two mile walk back hauling several gallons of water in makeshift jugs that often leaked. While there, we learned the well had been broken by a few mischievous kids while playing. There was no easy way to fix it without expensive equipment that was hard to find in Haiti and even harder to transport on the country’s poor road system. The villagers again had to walk miles to fetch water.
It was during the discussion about the well that a young lady pulled my translator aside and spoke to him quietly for a few minutes in what seemed like a somber conversation. Later, I asked what he and the girl had talked about. He replied, “She wanted us to take her home with us.” That is, she wanted to escape her life of poverty and live in America. I will never forget that conversation. I managed to photograph it as she talked asked my translator (see photo). Up until that point, the idea of what America meant to the world was just an abstract idea for me. That moment taught me what America means to the world.
America has been lucky in many ways, and we have become an incredible beacon to the world. Our wealth, our freedom, our respect for human dignity is what makes America so unique, and people will give anything to have the opportunity to live here. These ideas clearly do not come easily to Trump. He seems alien to the sentiment inscribed on the Statue of Liberty just a few miles from his home in New York City, “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free..” As an American I can say we do not have a president that represents the values this country holds dear. It is a shame.
I often think about that girl who asked us to bring her to America. It is sadly a common occurrence in countries like Haiti to get asked for help by someone wanting to move to America. Unfortunately, we were unable to help her get to America. My translator was, however, able to fix her village’s well on subsequent trips. He is a hero in that isolated Haitian village and will always be much more of a hero than President Trump will ever be.