Fact-Checking What John Kelly Said About Immigration

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

In an exclusive interview with NPR this past week, President Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, said this about immigrants crossing the border illegally.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

JOHN KELLY: 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.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: General Kelly used to be the head of the Department of Homeland Security. And he is still very involved in shaping the Trump administration’s immigration policies. We’re joined now by Tomas Jimenez, an associate professor of sociology at Stanford who studies immigration, to talk about these comments. Thank you so much for being on the program.

TOMAS JIMENEZ: Great to be with you, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. So let’s parse this out. Let’s start with assimilation. It kind of reminds me of the Borg in “Star Trek.” You will be assimilated. So is assimilation or, as chief of staff Kelly calls it, integration important?

JIMENEZ: It’s incredibly important. You know, for any society to function, people have to have equal opportunity to fully participate in a society. And General Kelly’s right about the fact that language is a big part of that – so is education, and so is income. So it is important, yes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do we know about the way in which Latinos assimilate?

JIMENEZ: So immigrant assimilation is a bit of a misnomer. Assimilation is actually something that happens over the course of generations. And our history certainly bears that out. The immigrants who came overwhelmingly from Europe to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century didn’t assimilate themselves. But their children and their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren ultimately wrote the story of the nation of immigrants. And they did that through getting more education than their parents, getting more income, learning to speak English and ultimately intermarrying in large numbers. And by all accounts, that pattern is repeating itself among today’s immigrants. Their children and their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren are assimilating just as fast, if not faster, than past waves of immigrants.

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