John Kelly clearly exemplified how the immigrant narrative is all wrong. What Trump’s Chief of Staff told NPR on May 11 succinctly explains how Donald Trump and cohorts have the immigration issue all wrong. Donald Trump himself is angry that the Migrant Caravan immigrants were allowed into the United States recently. They were allowed in because they followed the law. No amount of berating by Trump against his secretary of homeland security, Kirstjen Nielsen, will change the fact that the immigrants followed the law. Kelly’s comments and Trump’s anger is the reason why we can’t have an honest discussion about immigration.
On May 11, John Kelly told 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 MS-13. Some of them are not.”
“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.”
There are three very important points that Kelly’s comments have that must be pointed out.
The first is “they’re not criminals.” All of us that have been advocating for immigration reform have been pointed that fact out. Kelly knows this, and Trump ignores it for political rhetoric. They are not criminals is an inconvenient fact that gets in the way of the rhetoric about securing the borders. That is why Trump and cohorts demonize immigrants to make it more palatable to argue border security to most of the American voters.
The second is Kelly’s comments about the low educational levels of the immigrants and their lack of English. Most anti-immigrants embrace this notion under the banner of “assimilation.”
But here is the problem with that.
First, the English issue is that most of the immigrants speak Spanish. The inconvenient fact is that the United States is the second-largest Spanish speaking country in the world, after México, in terms of population. You read that right, except for México, there are more Spanish speakers in the United States than any other country in the world. Many of those Spanish speakers are U.S. citizens with the same rights as John Kelly and Donald Trump to make laws to force everyone to speak English.
The fact that there are no laws making English the official language of the country proves that the American voters don’t want an English-only country. Thus, the argument that they don’t assimilate because they don’t speak English is false from the onset.
That brings us to the low educational attainment of most of the immigrants.
Since about 2005, California farmers have been complaining about rotting fruits and vegetables on their fields because of the lack of labor to harvest the fields. Just in Santa Barbara County, about $13 million crops were lost in 2005 because the farmers couldn’t harvest their crops.
Donald Trump told famers recently that he would issue work permits to allow farmers to hire immigrants to harvest the crops. Clearly, there is a problem with labor shortages in the agricultural sectors. Mexican immigrants have been returning to México since about 2005 and thus the shortage of labor to harvest crops has been exasperated.
Herein lies the fallacy of the uneducated immigrant. It is true that their educational attainment is low and because of that is the reason they want to work the fields. As México’s economy increased, the Mexican immigrant returned to México. But the American fields were left with rotting crops.
Thus, although John Kelly argues that low education is a problem among immigrants he, and others, completely ignore the fact that American farmers needs them to put food on American tables.
This brings us to the most poignant part of John Kelly’s comments, and the third point of his comments – his own family’s history.
According to Monica Pattangall who researched Kelly’s family tree and shared it with The Washington Post, Kelly’s ancestors were low-educated and low-skilled workers who did not speak English. Just the type of immigrants that John Kelly is complaining about.
Donald Trump’s own family are also immigrants as well as his current wife.
Yet, Kelly and Trump argue that immigrants are bad for the country. This, from two people whose own families immigrated to the United States in search something better. In Kelly’s case, his ancestors can be characterized exactly as those Kelly now wants to be kept out of the country.
That is hypocrisy at its worst.
It is this type of ignorance that makes having a fruitful discussion over the merits of immigration impossible because individuals like Kelly and Trump would rather demonize immigrants than have an honest discussion.