During a speech at a naturalization ceremony at the National Archives and Records Administration, Obama discussed the difficulties encountered by those new to the United States.
"Life in America was not always easy. It wasn't always easy for new immigrants," said Obama. "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."
Carson's comments Monday struck a similar tone, with the former candidate for the Republican nomination for president saying, “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.”
Armstrong Williams, a former spokesman for Carson, defended the secretary in an op-ed in The Hill as "a man of compassion" who "listen[ed] to those who may have been offended by our remarks and provide[d] clarity."
"His intent with his original comments was to shine a light on the values and aspirations that we share. It was certainly not to offend anyone," wrote Williams.
In the face of Monday's criticism, Carson posted a note to his Facebook page recognizing the "incomprehensible struggle [of Black Americans] from slavery to freedom."
"The slave narrative and immigrant narrative are two entirely different experiences. Slaves were ripped from their families and their homes and forced against their will after being sold into slavery by slave traders," wrote Carson. "The immigrants made the choice to come to America. They saw this country as a land of opportunity. In contrast, slaves were forced here against their will and lost all their opportunities. We continue to live with that legacy."