If Trump is a racist, so is Turnbull: top US official

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull meets with United States of America President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a trilateral meeting at the ASEAN summit in Manila, Philippines on Monday 13 November 2017. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visits Vietnam, Hong Kong and Philippines to attend the APEC and EAS Summits and to attend bilateral talks on regional trade and security. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull meets with United States of America President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a trilateral meeting at the ASEAN summit in Manila, Philippines on Monday 13 November 2017. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visits Vietnam, Hong Kong and Philippines to attend the APEC and EAS Summits and to attend bilateral talks on regional trade and security. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Donald Trump's head of Homeland Security has suggested that anyone who brands the US President a racist based on his immigration views must also say the same for Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Amid the ongoing furore over Mr Trump's widely reported complaints about taking migrants from "shithole" countries, US Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the merit-based immigration system favoured by the President was similar to Australia's and Canada's.

"I take a little bit of offence to the comments and suggestions that the president is racist," Ms Nielsen told Fox News on Sunday.

"I'm sure that we are not, any of us, suggesting that Canada and Australia and their leaders are racists."

Ms Nielsen was in the Oval Office last week when Mr Trump bemoaned the US bringing in migrants from "shithole" countries in central America and Africa, according to the Washington Post and other American media outlets, expressing a preference for countries like Norway.

Ms Nielsen said she did not recall the President using that exact language and argued the administration wanted to "move away from a quota-based system" and bring migrants in on merit.

Mr Trump's reported comments have been met with fury from domestic politicians and foreign leaders, with the African Union expressing "infuriation, disappointment and outrage".

The President has since said he used "tough" language in the meeting with Democrat and Republican legislators but denied using that exact language.

Democrat senator Dick Durbin said Mr Trump's denial was false, claiming he began "calling the nations they come from shitholes - the exact word used by the President, not just once, repeatedly".

Australia's immigration system, which sees the majority of permanent migrants brought in based on their skills, has been praised by Mr Trump and other Republicans who are seeking to overhaul the current American system.

"I, as President, want people coming into our country who are going to help us become strong and great again, people coming in through a system based on merit. No more lotteries!" Mr Trump said on Twitter on Sunday.

Questioned further by reporters on Sunday night, Mr Trump said: "I'm not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed. That I can tell you."

In an effort to cut back immigration, the President and his allies in Congress want to curb chain migration - where US residents sponsor family members to get visas - and the decades-old lottery visa system, which grants visas to people from under-represented countries.

As well as skilled migrants, people are granted permanent visas to stay in Australia under the family stream and the humanitarian program for refugees. There are also temporary visas for students and eligible workers.

This story If Trump is a racist, so is Turnbull: top US official first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.