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Latino lawmakers blast John Kelly over 'bigoted' remarks on immigrants

Kelly's comments that people crossing the border were overwhelmingly "rural" and "wouldn't assimilate" were deemed "ignorant" and "intolerant."
Image: White House Chief of Staff John Kelly listens as U.S. President Donald Trump holds a round table meeting with members of law enforcement about sanctuary cities in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington
John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, said in an interview with NPR that immigrants who enter the country illegally don't easily assimilate "into our modern society.”Leah Millis / Reuters file

Latino lawmakers pushed back on comments by White House chief of staff John Kelly, who described people who enter the U.S. illegally as undereducated, unskilled and unable to integrate into society. His comments were part of a wide-ranging interview that aired Friday on National Public Radio.

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said that Kelly's "bigoted comments about immigrants seeking refuge are a slap in the face to the generations of people who have come from foreign lands to contribute to the richness of our nation."

Kelly's “intolerant and ignorant ideas,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement, have been lobbed at immigrants throughout history “against all of our families.”

Kelly said people who move to the United States illegally 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. … They don’t integrate well, they don’t have skills,” Kelly said.

He also had said that the vast majority are not bad people, not members of the violent MS-13 gang.

“It is sad that we have to continue to remind the administration that immigrants founded this country,” Lujan Grisham stated. “Some arrived penniless and without an education but worked to find ways to prosper, revitalize communities and give back to the nation they love. … His comments about immigrants and immigration policy betray this history and our values.”

This is not the first time Kelly has been under fire for comments on immigration.

He was heavily criticized for saying people who were eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program were “too lazy to get off their asses.”

Kelly made near similar remarks in the NPR interview, though added an explanation. Kelly said some 670,000 eligible migrants “for some reason didn’t get around to registering.”

Reminded by NPR of his previous comment, Kelly responded: “I believe that’s a quote. But for whatever reason they didn’t get off their butts.”