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White House's Kelly questions immigrants' ability to 'assimilate'

The hapless White House chief of staff's latest rhetoric about immigrants echoes some ugly rhetoric from years past.
US Chief of Staff John Kelly looks on as US President Donald Trump meets with North Korean defectors in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC...

It might be easy to think of John Kelly as the hapless White House chief of staff whom Donald Trump prefers to ignore and circumvent, but from time to time, the retired general reminds the public of his own controversial worldview. Consider this excerpt from Kelly's new interview with NPR:

"Let me step back and tell you that the vast majority of the people that move illegally into United States are not bad people. They're not criminals. They're not MS13. ... 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...."

I was all set to respond to this with a rant about the historical parallels between Kelly's perspective and anti-immigrant rhetoric from generations past, but it looks like ThinkProgress beat me to the punch:

Concerns about immigrants' ability to assimilate with American society have been used repeatedly throughout the country's history to justify barring different groups from immigrating. For example, the Chinese Exclusion Act, a law that prohibited all immigration of Chinese laborers from 1882 until 1943, was passed because Chinese immigrants were blamed for the depressed wages that followed the Gold Rush and Civil War. In 1890, the New York Times printed an article that explained that while "the red and black assimilate… not so the Chinaman."Similar arguments have been used since to justify xenophobia against Italian, Irish, Jewish, and -- most recently -- Muslim immigrants over the past century. As Splinter News points out, the Library of Congress still characterizes Kelly's Irish ancestors as having "left a rural lifestyle"; these "destitute" immigrants were "unprepared for the industrialized, urban centers in the United States."

One wonders why Kelly, the former Department of Homeland Security secretary, apparently isn't aware of all of this.

What's more, this is hardly the first controversy the White House chief of staff has found himself in the middle of.

Indeed, this comes on the heels of Kelly's role in the Rob Porter scandal, in which Trump's chief of staff was less than honest about his knowledge of the allegations against his aide.

That story followed Kelly's suggestion that some Dreamers are "lazy" immigrants. And that story followed Kelly's highly dubious calls to the Justice Department, in which he reportedly conveyed the president's "expectations" to federal law enforcement officials.

That, of course, came on the heels of an interview in which Kelly made some very strange comments about the Civil War.

And that followed an incident from the fall in which Kelly lied about a House Democrat and refused to apologize.

The White House soon after suggested it’s “highly inappropriate” to question Kelly’s word, even when he’s proven wrong. That was an exceedingly misguided recommendation.