Conservative pundit Tomi Lahren attempted on Saturday night to defend controversial remarks from White House chief of staff John Kelly by rewriting American history to claim low-skilled immigrants have no place in the U.S.
“You don’t just come into this country with low skills, low education, not understanding the language and come into our country because someone says it makes them feel nice. That’s not what this country is based on,” Lahren said in an appearance on Fox News, adding: “We don’t believe in importing poverty.”
In fact, the historic waves of immigration that created modern America included many low-skilled non-English speakers ― whether from southern and eastern Europe, or from Asia, Africa and South America ― whose descendants are now integral parts of U.S. society.
Research shows that today’s immigrants are more likely to have advanced degrees, less likely to commit crimes, and are good for the economy in general ― including by raising wages for the native-born.
Kelly, formerly Trump’s homeland security secretary, sparked debate over the issue of immigrants’ abilities earlier this week when NPR released a transcript of an interview in which he argued that most people moving into the U.S. illegally are not capable of becoming part of American society:
The vast majority of the people that move illegally into United States are not bad people. 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 speak English. They don’t integrate well, they don’t have skills. They’re not bad people. They’re coming here for a reason. And I sympathize with the reason. But the laws are the laws.
Kelly’s remarks came days after the Trump administration further tightened immigration law enforcement by canceling deportation protections for Hondurans who fled a 1998 hurricane. That move pushed the number of immigrants formerly under temporary protected status and now in jeopardy to over 1 million. Days later, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the U.S. would adopt an official policy of criminally prosecuting people trying to enter the country illegally, meaning parents would be separated from their children on a large scale.
“The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever,” Kelly told NPR.
Immigrant rights advocates slammed Kelly’s comments, and The Washington Post noted that he is personally descended from Irish and Italian immigrants, some of whom didn’t speak English for years while living in the U.S.
“Kelly somehow nonetheless wound up as the top aide to the president of the United States,” the Post’s Philip Bump wrote.
Lahren herself appears to be the descendant of an immigrant born in the Russian Empire who forged an immigration document to try to secure his status.
“I bring this to light not to shame or embarrass Tomi Lahren,” journalist Jennifer Mendelsohn wrote. “It means he may have been a good man who made a bad decision under pressure. It means you’d hope his great-great-granddaughter would have empathy for the plight of immigrants rather than try to pull up the ladder behind her.”