By Zeke Miller and Jill Colvin, Associated Press
ELLESBOROUGH, England (AP) — President Donald Trump pressed ahead Friday with his complaints that European immigration policies are changing the “fabric of Europe” and destroying European culture.
During a news conference with British Prime Minster Theresa May, Trump backtracked on the criticism of May that he made in an explosive interview released as he began his visit to the country. But he reiterated his belief that Europe’s decision to accept migrants from Middle Eastern and African countries is “a very negative thing for Europe.”
Standing next to May at Chequers, the prime minister’s official country estate, Trump acknowledged that his remarks were “politically not necessarily correct.” But he said European countries need to “watch themselves.”
“You are changing culture, you are changing a lot of things,” he said, adding, “You see the same terror attacks that I do.”
Trump was reiterating a position he articulated in an interview released Thursday by The Sun, in which he also criticized May’s handling of Brexit negotiations and said “I think allowing millions and millions of people to come into Europe is very, very sad.”
May quickly rebutted Trump during their joint appearance, saying the U.K. has a “proud history of welcoming people who are fleeing persecution to our country.”
“Over the years, overall immigration has been good for the U.K.,” she added. “It’s brought people with different backgrounds, different outlooks here to the U.K. and we’ve seen them contributing to our society and our economy.”
Critics have faulted the president for using language that echoes white supremacist laments about the loss of white power.
Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., born in the Dominican Republic, said Trump was “trying to throw gasoline on fire and begin a culture war, and it’s unfortunate that he’s divisive in the United States and he’s divisive in Europe as well.”
“We all tout our nation as being a nation of immigrants,” Espaillat said. “For him to characterize that as something negative that we should avoid is sort of going against the most important and fundamental tenets of our country.”
Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., born in Taipei, Taiwan, said American culture is constantly changing through immigration.
“That’s what makes our country amazing and great,” Lieu said. “It is a continual renewal of our American ideals set forth in our Constitution and Declaration of Independence with every new successive generation.”
Trump said he believes that the U.K.’s Brexit vote in 2016 was in part a response to lax European immigration laws, and he has frequently tried to use Europe as a cautionary tale for the U.S., where he is seeking to implement more hawkish migration policies.
“Complete nonsense,” Hannah Weidemann, a German in her early twenties said of Trump’s remarks. “All cultures change all the time. That’s important. You should be open to other cultures.”
“The U.S. is a country of immigrants,” she added. “People who say these things are afraid of what they don’t know.”
Her friend Christy Wendt said Berlin is an example of a multicultural city where people get along well. “Trump should know better. His mother was an immigrant herself.”
Michael Cormack, 21, from England, also disagreed with Trump’s view that immigration is destroying European culture. “I think it’s doing the exact opposite,” he said. While small towns might struggle with the influx of immigrants, he said “in cities like London and Berlin people just get on with it.”
Alexandru Krauss, visiting Berlin from Romania, wholeheartedly agreed with Trump. “Immigrants are behaving badly,” he said, singling out people from Arab countries. Asked to elaborate, he said that while there weren’t many immigrants in Romania, he’d heard on television that there were problems elsewhere in Europe, particularly in Germany.
Trump has used tough rhetoric on immigration to motivate his political base at home, at times using racial or ethnic undertones. During the 2016 presidential campaign, he drew global condemnation for a call to ban Muslim immigration to the U.S. Since entering the White House, he has enacted travel restrictions for citizens from some Muslim-majority countries, curtailed refugee admissions to the U.S. and called for “extreme vetting” of those entering the U.S.
He drew fire from Democrats earlier this year for describing MS-13 gang members, many of them immigrants to the U.S., as “animals.”
Miller reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Kevin Freking in Washington and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.
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