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Congressman: Kelly Comments on Immigrants 'Ignorant and Essentially Dumb'

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly at a White House event on April 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — A Latino congressman called White House chief of staff John Kelly “ignorant and essentially dumb” for comments about the assimilation and education of illegal immigrants.

In an interview aired today on NPR, Kelly said 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 MS-13. … 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,” Kelly said. “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.”

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus called Kelly’s “bigoted comments about immigrants seeking refuge” a “slap in the face to the generations of people who have come from foreign lands to contribute to the richness of our nation.”

“I would like to remind General Kelly that the intolerant and ignorant ideas he espoused from the White House are exactly the same comments and attitudes that were prevalent against all of our families. It wasn’t right then, and it isn’t right now. Our country is better than this,” caucus chairwoman Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.) said in a statement.

“It is sad that we have to continue to remind this administration that immigrants founded this country and have fought and died in every war in American history. Some arrived penniless and without an education but worked to find ways to prosper, revitalize communities and give back to the nation they love,” Lujan Grisham added. “It is the stories of immigrants that give life to and renew the American dream. His comments about immigrants and immigration policy betray this history and our values.”

On CNN, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a first-generation American of Mexican and Columbian descent, called Kelly’s “dumb” comments the “same things that were said about his Irish ancestors back in the 1830s all the way to the 1860s, and probably beyond then.”

“And also I hope he would actually recognize the fact that so many of those immigrants that he so-called are uneducated actually ended up being Marines that served under him,” said Gallego, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq.

“We actually have had conversations with — when he was Secretary Kelly as part of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, as part of my job as a member of Congress. And he’s pretty clueless when it comes to immigration issues and how the border works and how immigration law works in general,” he said of the former commander of U.S. Southern Command.

“So this is not surprising at all. He has said some pretty bad things, in my opinion, to members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that were really tone-deaf.”