Trump says Bahamas full of 'very bad gang members' as he doubles down on not letting Hurricane Dorian refugees in to US
‘We’re also recovering from the hurricane. Let me explain – large sections of the Bahamas were not hit’
A day after survivors of the storm were ordered off a boat from Freeport to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, if they did not have a US visa, and the official death toll on the islands rose to 45, Mr Trump doubled down on a decision not to do more to accommodate those struck by the record-equalling storm.
“We have to be very careful. Everyone needs totally proper documentation. I don’t want to allow people who weren’t supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States, including some very bad people,” the president told reporters at the White House.
“Look, the Bahamas had some tremendous problems with people going to the Bahamas that weren’t supposed to be there.”
Without providing evidence to back his claim, he said the nation, that was struck by Dorian as it carried winds of 185 mph, had some “very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers”.
The president, who has placed a tough anti-immigration policy at the centre of his re-election strategy, spoke after an incident in which a number of survivors of the storm were forced off a boat travelling to the US.
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who has emerged as one of the president’s sternest critics on issues of immigration, said the incident marked “the height of cruelty”.
CNN said a spokesman for the US’s customs and border agency, Michael Silva, said that Balearia, the ferry operator, did not properly co-ordinate the evacuation efforts with the US embassy, the Bahamian government and the US agency for international development.
“We’re there to facilitate and accommodate that process in an orderly fashion, according to regulation and protocol. However, Balearia did not do that,” Mr Silva said. “We asked them to co-ordinate ahead of time. They did not that do that.”
Mr Trump claimed that parts of the US were themselves still recovering from the effects of the storm, though he admitted they were not as bad as had been anticipated.
Around half-a-dozen people died in the US, while officials in the Bahamas believe the eventual death toll could be “staggering”.
Despite his clear reservations, the president said his administration was talking to a “lot of people” about possibly extending temporary protected status, granted to people who cannot safely return to their countries, to immigrants from the Bahamas.
A mounting number of politicians from both major parties are pushing the White House to suspend visa requirements to help reunite Bahamians stranded by Dorian with relatives in the US.
On Monday, acting commissioner of US customs and border protection Mark Morgan told reporters the agency would work to vet all immigrants from the Bahamas for possible threats to national security.
At a White House briefing, Mr Morgan said there had not been “any formal grant” of temporary protected status for Bahamians. Asked if he planned to discuss it with Mr Trump or other White House officials, he said: “I think so.”
“If the history shows that it’s taken a lengthy time to get the Bahamas back to where these people can return to, I’m sure that that will be a discussion that we’d be having,” he said.
In his comments to reporters, Mr Trump also claimed parts of the US were also recovering and that “large sections of the Bahamas were not hit.”
Additional reporting by agencies