SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - El Salvador's government on Friday sent the United States a formal letter of protest at comments attributed in the media to President Donald Trump that characterized the homelands of some immigrants as "shithole" countries.
At a meeting with lawmakers about protections for migrants on Thursday, Trump questioned why the United States would want to accept people from Haiti and African nations, referring to some as "shithole countries," according to two sources.
Instead, the United States should seek immigration from Norway, he reportedly said.
The Republican president denied using a vulgar reference in comments that many Democrats and African leaders called racist.
Democratic U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, who was at the White House meeting, condemned the president's use of language and said he used the word "shithole" repeatedly.
The meeting included discussion of a programme known as Temporary Protected Status (TPS) that covers some 200,000 people from El Salvador living in the United States. Earlier this week U.S. officials said those Salvadorans will lose their right to remain in the country next year.
Responding to the reports and Trump's declarations on the matter, the Central American country's foreign ministry said the president had "implicitly" accepted the use of "harsh terms detrimental to the dignity of El Salvador and other countries."
"Because of this we have directed a note of protest to the government of the United States," the ministry said in a statement, also demanding respect for its people.
Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren said he "vigorously rejected" the comments attributed to Trump, which also triggered outrage among some citizens.
"For me, he is a sick person," said Salvadoran housewife Carolina Portillo. "I don't know what qualities the North American people see in him."
El Salvador's government underlined the role played by its nationals in the United States in helping to rebuild the Pentagon following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks as well as reconstruct New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Trump launched his presidential bid in 2015 describing Mexican immigrants as murderers and rapists, vowing to build a wall to keep them out.
The "shithole" controversy due a sharp rebuke from former Mexican President Vicente Fox, a frequent Trump critic.
In a post on Twitter, Fox wrote:
"Your mouth is the foulest shithole in the world... America’s greatness is built on diversity, or have you forgotten your immigrant background, Donald?"
Trump's mother came from Scotland to the United States and his paternal grandparents were born in Germany.
(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan in Washington; writing by Anthony Esposito and Julia Love; editing by Dave Graham and Lisa Shumaker)