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Trump Comments Ignite Immigrants In Philly To Unite

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Now lawmakers in Washington, D.C., are trying to hammer out a new immigration policy that comes even as immigrant groups are continuing to protest the president's insulting comments about African nations and Haiti. Haitian-Americans protested this week in Times Square, also outside Trump's Mar-a-Lago property in Florida. In Philadelphia, community groups are planning their next steps as we hear from Laura Benshoff of member station WHYY.

LAURA BENSHOFF, BYLINE: In a grand room on the fourth floor of Philadelphia's City Hall, about 70 people crowd around a podium. Many hold up cellphones, streaming the remarks by local elected officials and immigrant leaders to their social media. Michel Francois, the president of the Haitian Coalition of Philadelphia, says the president's remarks made him more sad than mad.

MICHEL FRANCOIS: Because I still cannot understand or imagine that citizens from this great nation have chosen such a low-class person.

BENSHOFF: Members of the African and Caribbean community take turns condemning the words attributed to President Trump and the message behind them. They also repeat a point - that black immigrants to the U.S. have more than quadrupled since 1980. Most African immigrants who can become U.S. citizens and potential voters according to the Pew Research Center.

DARRELL CLARKE: It's all about politics.

BENSHOFF: That's Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke, who strikes out at officials who defend Trump.

CLARKE: 'Cause you got a bunch of people sitting in a room. One day, they hear something. The next day, they don't hear nothing. Now they changed their story. Oh, now I did hear it. He didn't say that. That's crazy.

BENSHOFF: That political response is still taking shape. A few days earlier, about two dozen leaders from across African and Caribbean organizations in Philadelphia huddled in a windowless conference room coming up with a plan of action. The group included scientists, pastors, engineers, lawyers, entrepreneurs and professors. African immigrants are more likely to have a college degree than native-born Americans and most other immigrant groups according to the Migration Policy Institute.

The leaders asked me not to record the meeting but allowed me to watch as they expressed frustration that they had to educate the president about who they are. Afterwards, Eric Edi, who is with a local coalition of African and Caribbean immigrants, told me what they decided. He said the plan is to mobilize the group's large number of naturalized citizens.

ERIC EDI: We need to capitalize on that to continue aggressively the voter's registration in such a way that, you know, we can have a stronger voice when it comes to political decision-making.

BENSHOFF: They also voted to show their contributions to the U.S. economy by withholding their work for a day. For NPR News, I'm Laura Benshoff in Philadelphia.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHROMATICS' "IN THE CITY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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