Yesterday, supposed adult-in-the-room John Kelly, Donald Trump’s chief of staff and the apparent Steve King-wannabe of the Trump Administration, made headlines by denigrating and disparaging immigrants who come into the United States. As he said during an NPR interview:
[Undocumented immigrants are] 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.
There’s a lot that’s elitist and wrong about Kelly’s statement, including 1) the idea that rural people don’t matter — GOP base anyone? — 2) that those without much education can’t contribute, 3) that not being able to speak English, have skills, or immediate assimilate are unchangeable facts, not to mention 4) the idea that an entire group of people can be profiled and casually dismissed in this way.
And as Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post points out, Kelly doesn’t even have his facts straight:
Actually, current immigrants assimilate just as well as immigrant in past generations, according to a slew of data-rich studies. Most undocumented immigrants in the United States are not poor, uneducated people coming over the border…
Immigrants who are here illegally are more likely to work (hence, they must have some job skills) than other groups.
In short, Kelly is dead wrong. The chief of staff chooses either to lie or not to inform himself about basic facts relevant to hugely consequential policies he champions. He aptly reflect the prejudices of his boss and the thinking behind the cruel policies…that he and Trump doggedly pursue.
Advocates, allies and many others whose own family histories are similar to what Kelly described have been lifting up their own immigrant stories on Twitter and pointing out that Kelly’s Italian and Irish ancestors — including a grandfather who never spoke English — weren’t exactly embraced by those who came before them, either:
Would love to know about John Kelly’s ancestors from Ireland. If they were like mine, they rural, poor and “uneducated.” They worked hard and built a better life for our family, And I’m so thankful they came and this country let them flourish.
— Frank Sharry (@FrankSharry) May 11, 2018
I’m sorry but u disgust me John Kelly, describing my forefathers who didn’t speak English. My great-great grandfather was a water boy in Sicily. He came to US, built a family. He built businesses too but that’s not the point. Your elitist attitude makes America hate, not great. https://t.co/n6HFNoccyD
— Lynn Tramonte (@tramontela) May 11, 2018
KELLY: Undcoumented immigrants lack skills to assimilate
UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS: we pledge allegiance, we speak English, we graduate from college with multiple degrees, we pay taxes. But please… go on.#immigration #daca
— Juan Escalante (@JuanSaaa) May 11, 2018
My mom had a sixth grade education and yet she built a business and has two daughters and a son with college degrees who all speak English and those of us who live here define American as much as anyone else. Our skills keep this economy running.Our customs make our culture rich. pic.twitter.com/NbG9nOrVgp
— Julissa Arce (@julissaarce) May 11, 2018
My father, coming to US from Eastern Europe, matched this description offered by Kelly: He entered unlawfully, had barely a 6th-grade education, didn’t speak English, had no discernible skills. He assimilated, Mr. Kelly, and did fine. https://t.co/gDY74hT9Bt
— Clyde Haberman (@ClydeHaberman) May 11, 2018
What the everloving fck is this omadhaun on about? The reason we have so many Irish in this country is that “rural” people over there were starving to death. Does Kelly think all of them were city councillors and firemen? My grandmother was a damn shepherd. https://t.co/yiEwTFu7zC
— Charles P. Pierce (@CharlesPPierce) May 11, 2018
WH COS John Kelly says that immigrants from rural areas without English skills don’t integrate into the U.S.
My dad came from rural China and spoke little English. He raised a son who held the same rank in the Obama WH (Asst. to the Pres.) that Kelly holds. I’d say we did okay. pic.twitter.com/m1fW3oqmRz
— Chris Lu (@ChrisLu44) May 11, 2018
This is my Cuban father. He came to the USA as a refugee at the age of 11. He “assimilated” quite well. He even enjoyed our National Pastime – baseball. This is us seeing the Cuban team playing the Orioles in Baltimore. pic.twitter.com/EuP64e1MiO
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) May 11, 2018
Truly disappointed by WH COS Kelly. My grandfather was an uneducated man who lost his life working in unsafe conditions in an anthracite mine. His descendants include winners of the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, 2 PhDs, a police officer killed in the line. We’ve integrated nicely. https://t.co/VatgixTQ4p
— Steve Kistulentz (@kistulentz) May 11, 2018
John Kelly’s grandfather was an Italian immigrant who “never spoke a word of English and made his living peddling a fruit cart in East Boston” (via @politico ) https://t.co/P9cTz7mrMz
— Heather Timmons (@HeathaT) May 11, 2018
Funny. He could be describing my Russian grandfather who became a millionaire who employed thousands.
John Kelly is a bad man. https://t.co/1k8oC7c0AR
— Helen Kennedy (@HelenKennedy) May 11, 2018
John Kelly would have saved himself a lot of words if he just said “they aren’t white.” https://t.co/jZ22fRNAby
— b-boy bouiebaisse (@jbouie) May 11, 2018
This quote from Kelly is really, really awful. https://t.co/4ei5gD3ERY
— Soledad O’Brien (@soledadobrien) May 11, 2018
The same was once said of Italians and of poor, Irish immigrants like John’s Kelly’s ancestors, when they came to the Unites States. I guess some people forget who they are and where they come from… https://t.co/VxqqItTTMr
— Ana Navarro (@ananavarro) May 11, 2018
John Kelly, who invented the term “executive time” for a gluttonous millionaire-at-birth to watch FOX News for 4 hrs every morning, reminds you that undocumented immigrants doing backbreaking work for low wages are the lazy ones.
— John Fugelsang (@JohnFugelsang) May 11, 2018
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. That includes his (and my) Irish ancestors. #IrishNeedNotApply pic.twitter.com/xD1IN5WxXa
— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) May 11, 2018
John Kelly: Vast majority of undocumented immigrants “don’t have skills”.
Apparently someone forgot to remind him that his boss is completely lacking in the skills department as well.
— Ed Krassenstein (@EdKrassen) May 11, 2018
John Kelly’s comments can’t be taken seriously. In fact, they’re not reflective of the American experience. Period. #Immigrants #americanhistory #readabook
— Abe Kasbo (@akasbo) May 11, 2018
Talk about a "cosmopolitan bias." https://t.co/yuclPsIUFB
— RuralOrganizing.org (@RuralOrganizing) May 11, 2018