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John Kelly’s Racist Comments About Immigrants Are Not His First

Trump’s Chief of Staff turned to bigotry when asked to defend harsh new policy for prosecuting illegal immigrants

John Kelly on immigrants

John Kelly disparaged immigrants from Mexico in an interview with NPR.

Pool / Getty Images

In a contentious NPR interview that aired Friday morning, President Trump’s Chief of Staff, John Kelly, said that the “vast majority” of illegal immigrants “don’t integrate well” and “don’t have
skills.” 

Kelly was defending a “zero tolerance policy” for illegal border crossings that was announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April. Sessions said “a crisis has erupted” at the border with Mexico, according to the AP. He ordered prosecutors to pursue criminal charges against any immigrants caught while attempting to illegally enter the U.S.

When asked about Sessions’ policy by NPR, Kelly allowed that many illegal immigrants “are not bad people … but they’re also not people that would easily assimilate into the United States,” he continued. “They’re overwhelmingly rural people. In the countries they come from, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-grade educations are kind of the norm.”

He kept elaborating: “They don’t speak English, obviously that’s a big thing,” Kelly said. “They don’t integrate well; they don’t have skills.”

This is not the first time Kelly has espoused racist views about non-white immigrants. Earlier this year, during the debate around the fate of the DACA recipients, known as Dreamers, the Washington Post reported that the president’s Chief of Staff said that some young immigrants eligible for protection under the program were “too lazy to get off their asses” and sign up.

Kelly later offered a different version of the same comment, insisting that eligible immigrants “just should’ve probably gotten off the couch and signed up.”

After Sessions announced the government’s new policy on border crossings, the ACLU condemned it in a statement. “We will almost certainly see asylum seekers prosecuted and parents separated from children to be funneled into the criminal justice system,” the ACLU said.

The Attorney General acknowledged his order might rip families apart in a subsequent press conference, but defended the policy as his only means of deterring future illegal border crossings. “We don’t want to separate families, but we don’t want families to come to the border illegally and attempt to enter into this country improperly,” he said, according to PBS.

“Why are you doing this?” a heckler responded. “Do you have a heart?”

Last fall, during the nationwide debate about Confederate statues, Kelly made news for his comments that General Robert E. Lee was “an honorable man.” Kelly argued that it was an “inability to compromise that led to the Civil War.”

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