Little Haiti Trump protest
A boy holds a sign in the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami during a protest against President Trump on Jan. 12, 2018, over derogatory comments he reportedly made about Haiti, El Salvador and African nations.
Alan Gomez, USA TODAY

When Lehylla Normil woke up Friday morning, she grabbed her cell phone, opened up Facebook and couldn't believe what she saw.

Her entire feed was filled with friends and relatives posting about President Trump, who reportedly called her native Haiti and several other nations "shithole countries" during a meeting at the White House.

Normil, 16, who is attending a medical magnet school in Miami in hopes of becoming an OB-GYN, said the president's comments sent a shock wave throughout the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami. 

"I kept thinking, 'Is this really happening?'" said Normil, who arrived in the U.S. six years ago to reunite with her parents. "It really hurt. I'm really proud of my country and my people. What's wrong with him? He's sick."

Normil was one of hundreds of people who attended a protest on Friday in Little Haiti, which is the heart of the Haitian-American diaspora in a state filled with more than 300,000 Haitians.

Many lamented the decision by the Trump administration last year to end Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 46,000 Haitians who have been living in the U.S. since an earthquake devastated the country in 2011. Others complained about the lack of help provided after Hurricane Matthew tore through Haiti in 2016.

But most focused on Trump's comments.

Erns Robillard, who owns a video production company in Miami, said the saddest part about hearing of Trump's comments was that he wasn't surprised at all. After starting his presidential campaign by insulting Mexicans, then using a vulgar term to describe NFL players who were protesting against police brutality, Robillard said Trump has already shown his true nature.

"It's not a shock to anyone anymore," said Robillard, 49, who was born in Haiti but moved to South Florida in 2000. "This is something that's in your veins. This is him."

Jean-Robert Lafortune, who heads the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition in Miami, went back into the history books to show how misguided Trump's comments really were.

Lafortune listed off turning points in early American history and explained how Haitians played a helping role in each of them. During the Revolutionary War, Haitians sent more than 500 fighters to help the young rebels defend against a British attack on Savannah. During the War of 1812, they sent troops to fight alongside Gen. Andrew Jackson to defend the Port of New Orleans.

Even some of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-Americans allowed to become pilots in the U.S. military, were recruited from Haiti to fight in World War II.

"The president is showing his ignorance on the importance of Haiti in helping the U.S. in its younger days," Lafortune said.

Jean Monestime, a native of Haiti who is now a Miami-Dade County commissioner, called Trump's comments an insult to Haitians, Salvadorans and all African immigrants.

"Mr. Trump surely does not understand that what makes America Great is its diversity stemming from the immigration of the 'poor, the tired and the huddled masses' from these various countries," Monestime said. "These are the people on whose backs the bridges, the skyscrapers that make up our infrastructure were built."

Trump's comments infuriated community leaders far from the predominantly Haitian corner of Miami.

Francis Suarez, the Cuban-American mayor of Miami, said he grew up surrounded by immigrants from the countries attacked by Trump. "There are my constituents, my neighbors, and my friends," he said.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., also a Cuban-American, said Trump's language, "should not be heard in locker rooms and it shouldn't be heard in the White House."

Juan Perez, director of the Miami-Dade Police Department, urged his "Haitian neighbors, fellow residents, and freedom seekers" to "stay the course." And Alberto Carvalho, the county's superintendent, worried that children from the countries targeted by Trump are now questioning what hurts more: "How anyone could perceive their family's homeland in such a way or how anyone can remain silent about it."

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., took a more measured approach. He did not overtly condemn Trump's remarks, instead taking to Twitter to quote a Bible passage that urges people to "slander noone." He also supported the idea of ending the diversity visa lottery that was at the core of Trump's remarks.

But Rubio also delivered a series of Tweets highlighting the contributions of Haitian-Americans. He referenced Reginald Fils-Aimé, the son of Haitian immigrants who is now president of Nintendo of America. He listed politicians, doctors, and Sony Michel, a running back for the University of Georgia.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., was more direct.

"Under no circumstances is it acceptable to degrade, denigrate, or dehumanize TPS immigrants," Curbelo tweeted. "The White House must immediately explain the situation and leave no doubt regarding what was said and in what context."