Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson doubled-down Monday on his description of slaves as immigrants, arguing that the label fits anyone who comes into a country from the outside — even "involuntary immigrants."
Speaking to department employees in his first full day on the job, Carson stoked controversy when he said America is “a land of dreams and opportunities” even for “immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships” and “worked even longer, even harder for less.”
The remarks provoked uproar on social media, where many on the left lambasted the HUD secretary for describing slaves as immigrants aspiring for a better life. Both Chelsea Clinton and Samuel L. Jackson also weighed in with disbelief.
On Monday evening, speaking on the Sirius XM radio show of his friend and business partner Armstrong Williams, Carson refused to back away from the remarks.
“I think people need to actually look up the word immigrant,” Carson said. “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.”
One woman who called into the show said she disagreed with Carson, arguing, “You can’t be an immigrant if you’re brought over here in chains.”
“Yes you can, you can be an involuntary immigrant,” Carson responded.
“We should be proud to have ancestors that had the mental strength to endure what so many others had not been able to endure,” he continued.
“They tried to enslave all kinds of people but they were not able to survive it and that requires a tremendous amount of toughness and will power and strength and hope and they had that. Don’t let someone turn that into something bad.”
Carson said the department employees he addressed earlier in the day understood his message, accusing the media of seizing on a non-existent controversy and overlooking the reception he received.
“Everyone in that auditorium was with me,” Carson said. “They knew exactly what I was saying. It’s only those people who are always trying to stir up controversy. Did they talk about the good things? Or the prolonged standing ovation? All the people standing in line to get pictures, the people who asked very good questions and got answers for them? The lady who stood up and said some of us were concerned but we’re not concerned about you anymore — no, they don’t cover that.
"They say, ‘Ah, he said that slaves were immigrants and that’s a terrible thing to say and he’s out of contact with reality and he’s crazy.’ You know it’s really kind of sad what the media has degenerated into.”
“There were numerous people brought over here on slave ships and it was a horrible thing, I’m not saying that it wasn’t a horrible thing,” Carson continued.
“But what I’m saying is that those people were strong, they were strong-willed. They didn’t just give up and die like many of the other people who they tried to enslave. And one of the reasons they didn’t just give up and die is because they used the brain god gave them and they figured a time would come when there would be freedom, a time would come when their children could achieve, so unless you have the ability to maintain that hope and that aspiration, you just give up and you die. Our ancestors did not do that.”
Carson also posted a statement on Facebook.