White House chief of staff John Kelly is being criticized for claiming undocumented immigrants entering the United States "don’t have skills" and would not "integrate well" into American society.
Kelly made a series of cringeworthy claims when asked to justify the Trump administration’s "zero tolerance" policy of separating undocumented children from their parents.
Kelly, speaking to NPR’s Morning Edition, appeared to counter President Donald Trump’s claim that heightened border security and his proposed wall are all about security.
"The vast majority of the people that move illegally into the United States are not bad people. They’re not criminals. They’re not MS-13," Kelly said in the interview released late Thursday. "But they’re also not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society. They’re overwhelmingly rural people."
Kelly was accused of promoting xenophobic ideas as he was asked about a recently announced Department of Justice policy that calls for separating more undocumented children from their parents.
Kelly’s comments echoed ignorant and racist claims that have been made about immigrant groups in the past.
"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," he added.
Several studies have shown that Latino immigrants actually learn English at a faster rate than past migrants from European societies.
Critics accused Kelly of harboring deeply bigoted views.
On WNYC public radio Friday morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio shot back at Kelly’s world view on immigrants, noting his grandmother came from rural Italy, spoke no English and had limited skills and now her grandson is mayor of New York.
"It’s very striking," he said. "It’s deeply troubling because it’s an attempt to rewrite history in this administration. It’s nativism out of hand."
Jesuit priest James Martin called on Kelly to remember his own roots.
"Every hateful, stereotypical and racist thing John Kelly said about Mexican-Americans was said about every other immigrant group that ended up building this country," Martin tweeted. "That includes his (and my) Irish ancestors."