Why would the US want more immigrants from “shithole countries”? Maybe because many of these immigrants have actually contributed a lot to US science and medicine.
Which countries did President Trump call "shitholes"? [Photo by the Associated Press]
News recently broke that US President Donald Trump referred to Haiti and other countries under Temporary Protected Status as “shithole countries”. The remark allegedly came up during a bipartisan meeting on the US’s visa lottery at the White House. Reports say that when it was suggested that half the lottery go to underrepresented African and TPS countries, the President asked why the US would want more immigrants from “shithole countries”. He also apparently asked why people from countries like Norway don’t immigrate to the US instead, seemingly implying that immigrants are fine, so long as they’re the “right” kind of immigrants.
There’s a lot to unpack from the President’s remarks, not the least of which is the strong undercurrent of racism. However, one thing that’s important to focus on is the fact that immigrants from “shithole countries” have actually made important contributions to science, technology, and medicine.
Haiti's National Palace in Port-au-Prince wasn't spared from the devastation of the 2010 earthquake. [Photo by Logan Abassi, United Nations]
Haiti, the country specifically named in that White House meeting as a “shithole”, is a former French colony with the distinction of being the site of the first successful slave rebellion in modern times. It also suffered massive damages from a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2010. The country has struggled to get back on its feet ever since, and it was due to this earthquake that the US gave Haiti a TPS.
Haitian-Americans, however, certainly don’t deserve the insulting moniker allegedly given by the President to their homeland. In 1986, Haitian-American Gerald Alphonse a superluminescent diode that turned out to be the highest performing in the world. The diode is still in use in several medical and technical tools.
Dr. Linda Marc-Clérismé, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, served as the Chairperson of the Public Health Committee for the Association of Haitian-American Engineers. Her expertise as a social epidemiologist is in HIV and AIDS research.
Henri Ford, meanwhile, immigrated to the US from Haiti when he was 13 years old. He was the first to successfully separate conjoined twins in Haiti. He also conducted research on necrotizing enterocolitis, the deadliest gastrointestinal disease in premature babies. At present, he is the president of the American Pediatric Surgical Association.
A young Nepalese immigrant made a significant discovery about Mars. [Image by NASA/JPL/University of Arizona]
Countries given TPS are countries where the safety of citizens are in danger. These dangers include war and natural disasters. The countries included in the TPS program are El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. The Trump administration has moved to end protected status for Haitians in particular.
Immigrants from other countries with TPS have also made significant contributions. Notably, Nepalese-American Lujendra Ojha was the first to discover compelling evidence that there is water on Mars. Somali immigrant and toxicologist Ali Said Farqi, meanwhile, has produced over 100 scientific papers and reports.
Understandably, the President’s unfortunate remark has caused a tidal wave of backlash. Immigrants or children of immigrants from these “shithole countries”, however, are hitting back in one of the best ways possible: by proving racist assumptions about them wrong. Many have taken to social media to list their accomplishments, while others let their bodies of work speak for themselves.
Get weekly science updates in your inbox!