White House Chief of Staff John Kelly was confronted by Democratic lawmakers Tuesday night for calling immigrants who were eligible for but did not enroll in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program “lazy.”
In a meeting with Republican and Democratic leaders to hammer out an immigration deal, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) challenged Kelly over the remarks.
“He took exception to the comment that these potential DACA applicants were just lazy,” Durbin told reporters about Hoyer’s action in the meeting. “And I said I think these are some of the hardest working and most inspiring young people I’ve ever run into. I don’t think they are lazy. This wasn’t a knock-down, drag-out fight. But Steny did raise it and I’m glad he did.”
Exiting the meeting, Kelly defended himself to reporters, saying of the population of young immigrants who were eligible for the Obama-era program but who didn’t enroll, “some of them should have gotten off the couch and signed up.”
“One million, one-hundred thousand, we think, never got around in six years to signing up for DACA,” Kelly said, ticking off potential reasons on his fingers as he spoke. “I will take the point that some of them hadn’t heard about it. Okay, hard to believe. Then I suppose there’s another small percentage that didn’t trust President Obama, which is kind of hard to believe. That leaves a lot of people that I guess just didn’t get around to signing up over a six year period.”
Kelly added that he find it hard to believe, as has been widely reported, that many young immigrants were misinformed about the program. “I’ve been told that many of them are in the military. Many are valedictorians. Many are highly educated. This is not a stupid group of people,” he said.
Kelly’s remark to reporters earlier on Tuesday that those who did not sign up were “too lazy to get off their asses” came in the context of him touting the White House immigration framework as extremely generous, because it offers a pathway to citizenship for all 1.8 million people who both enrolled in DACA or could have.
“President Trump, regardless of why they didn’t sign up, has decided to include them. It is stunning,” Kelly said.
Democrats and many Republicans, meanwhile, have balked at the other provisions in the White House plan, including measures that slash legal immigration by 44 percent.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday night, Kelly did not acknowledge the other potential reasons people did not sign up for DACA, such as lacking the documents that could prove the date of their arrival in the United States, not being able to afford hundreds of dollars in fees, and a fear now proving prescient that a future president would use the personal information to target them for deportation.