Snopes "fact-checks" a rhetorical turn by HUD Secretary Ben Carson:
Did Ben Carson Liken Slavery to Immigration?
The retired neurosurgeon and former presidential candidate made a controversial comment about immigration and slavery in his first address as HUD secretary.
OK, Carson provoked outrage with this:
That’s what America is about. A land of dreams and opportunity. There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less. But they, too, had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.
Clearly Carson understood they were slaves, but immigrants?!?
Carson presents a defense and Snopes weasels towards a 'guilty' verdict:
“I think people need to actually look up the word immigrant. Whether you’re voluntary or involuntary, if you come from the outside to the inside, you’re an immigrant. Whether you’re legal or illegal, you come from the outside to inside, you’re an immigrant. Slaves came here as involuntary immigrants but they still had the strength to hold on.”
(For what it’s worth, “immigrant” is typically defined as “a person who migrates to another country,” with the word “migrate” implying a voluntary action. Standard English usage does not classify the forcible abduction and involuntary transportation over national boundaries of human beings, lacking any choice or intent to live in their new location, as a form of “migration.”)
Closing with a parenthetical aside? Weird. But I can help!
John Kennedy, a name still familiar to Democrats and progressives, wrote a pamphlet in 1958 titled "A Nation Of Immigrants". Later (8/4/1963) it became a NY Times guest editorial. In his usage, everyone (except Native Americans) is an immigrant from somewhere else:
Just about every nation in the world, to some extent, admits immigrants. But there's something unique about America. We don't simply welcome new immigrants, we don't simply welcome new arrivals, we are born of immigrants. That is who we are. Immigration is our origin story. And for more than two centuries, it's remained at the core of our national character. It's our oldest tradition. It's who we are. It's part of what makes us exceptional.
After all, unless your family is Native American, one of the First Americans, our families—all of our families—come from someplace else....
So life in America was not always easy. It wasn't always easy for new immigrants. Certainly, it wasn't easy for those of African heritage who had not come here voluntarily and yet in their own way were immigrants themselves. There was discrimination and hardship and poverty. But, like you, they no doubt found inspiration in all those who had come before them. And they were able to muster faith that, here in America, they might build a better life and give their children something more.
I should add that Obama showed some consistency. Back in a naturalization speech in 2012 he said this:
We say it so often, we sometimes forget what it means -- we are a nation of immigrants. Unless you are one of the first Americans, a Native American, we are all descended from folks who came from someplace else -- whether they arrived on the Mayflower or on a slave ship, whether they came through Ellis Island or crossed the Rio Grande.
Lest you think Obama stands alone in remembering JFK's construction, here is a Jan 29 2017 post from the reliably progressive Daily Kos:
We are a nation of immigrants. Unless you are Native American, you have ancestors who came here from somewhere else.
But this country has a checkered past when it comes to immigration and the treatment of those who do not look or worship like the majority of Americans.
There are Chinese, Irish, Japanese, the children of slaves brought here against their will, and others. Chinese immigrants came here to build the transcontinental railroad. They looked different, they ate different foods, and had different customs. From 1850 on, discriminatory laws were enacted against them. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act.
The Irish were the victims of stereotyping—as alcoholics, or as being controlled by the ward bosses. The Japanese were forced into internment camps during World War II, a black mark on our nation’s history that we should never forget, and never allow to happen again. The treatment of African Americans in this country has been horrendous. Volumes have been written on this, so you would think at this point in our history we would be living in a world where race did not matter. But we don’t.
Believe it or not, 48 comments and none denouncing his equation of slavery and immigration. Selective sensitivity?
Just one more - maybe it's a Kennedy thing, but here is historian David Kennedy writing in The Atlantic in 1996. He is quite clear that immigrants includes slaves.
My point? maybe Ben Carson is more familiar than the Snopes team with the viewpoint adopted by JFK and echoed through the years down to Obama.