On Friday afternoon, Donald Trump filmed a video statement at the White House extending his best wishes to the people of the Bahamas, who are struggling in the wake of a deadly hurricane. After explaining that American agencies are going to help with recovery efforts, the president said, “On behalf of the United States and the people of the United States, we’re working hard, we’re with you, and God bless you.”
Four days later, it seems “we’re with you” may have been an unfortunate choice of words.
There were reports over the weekend on the Trump administration allegedly denying Bahamians without a visa access to the United States – in some cases, being removed from ships ready to leave the island – despite the emergency conditions. I’d initially hoped this was the result of a bureaucratic mix-up that could be easily fixed.
Those hopes were bolstered, at least initially, when acting Customs and Border Protection chief Mark Morgan told reporters yesterday that he believed it would be “appropriate” to extend temporary protected status to residents of the Bahamas, giving them the legal ability to live and work in the United States temporarily while recovery efforts are underway.
“This is a humanitarian mission,” the CBP chief said. “If your life is in jeopardy and you’re in the Bahamas … you’re going to be allowed to come to the United States, whether you have travel documents or not.”
Morgan’s boss didn’t quite see it the same way.
President Donald Trump on Monday downplayed the idea of allowing Bahamians fleeing the destruction of Hurricane Dorian into the United States on humanitarian grounds, hours after his acting Customs and Border Protection chief said it was worth considering.
“We have to be very careful. Everybody needs totally proper documentation because the Bahamas had some tremendous problems with people going to the Bahamas that weren’t supposed to be there,” Trump said on the White House South Lawn before departing for a campaign rally in North Carolina, where he also planned to survey Dorian damage.
“I don’t want to allow people that weren’t supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States, including some very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers.”
The Republican went on to emphasize that there are “large sections” of the Bahamas that were not devastated by Hurricane Dorian – suggesting that Trump believes people whose communities were destroyed should simply go to a different part of their country.
Or put another way, when the president told Bahamians, “We’re with you,” he may not have fully meant ‘with.”
It’s a reflexive posture for Trump: when presented with a crisis situation in which struggling people need to seek refuge on American soil, his immediate instinct is to say no.
While the White House and Customs and Border Protection struggle to get their stories straight, the death toll in the Bahamas continues to climb, yesterday reaching 50 people.