White House Chief of Staff John Kelly made some of his most racist public comments on immigration in an interview that aired Friday, telling NPR that people coming to the U.S. through the southern border are uneducated, “don’t have skills,” and have trouble assimilating “into our modern society.”
Kelly shared his views—which are essentially the same xenophobic claims made against Chinese, Italian, Irish, and Jewish immigrants in decades past—in an interview with NPR’s Morning Edition.
Kelly was responding to a question about the Trump administration’s recently announced “zero tolerance” policy, which calls for breaking up every single family that crosses the border illegally and prosecuting the parents.
Here’s how Kelly justified separating brown mothers from their babies (emphasis mine):
Let me step back and tell you that the vast majority of the people that move illegally into [the] United States are not bad people. They’re not criminals. They’re not MS13. ... But they’re also not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society. They’re overwhelmingly rural people. In the countries they come from, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-grade educations are kind of the norm. They don’t speak English; obviously that’s a big thing. ... They don’t integrate well; they don’t have skills. They’re not bad people. They’re coming here for a reason. And I sympathize with the reason. But the laws are the laws. ... The big point is they elected to come illegally into the United States, and this is a technique that no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long.
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Apart from their obvious racism, Kelly’s comments also echo the things people said about his descendants from Ireland when they came to America.
The Library of Congress, to this day, still claims “Irish immigrants left a rural lifestyle” and that many of them were “unprepared for the industrialized, urban centers in the United States.” Sound familiar?
Let the record state that Latinx people are assimilating just as fast as everybody else and actually learn English faster than many European immigrants did when they arrived in America.
So, once again, John Kelly has no idea what he’s talking about.