Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson's comment Monday classifying slaves brought to America as "immigrants" sparked backlash and a clarification, but conservative critics were quick to note that the description was similar to one made by former President Barack Obama in 2015.
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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.”
Following the discovery of Obama's quote, conservative outlets such as Breitbart News and The Federalist each published stories decrying the criticism of Carson as hypocritical. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee highlighted the Breitbart piece in a tweet, saying it was an example of "Why Dems hate" the website.
Why Dems hate Breitbart: Obama said same thing about slaves & immigrants Carson said, only w/o the fake outragehttps://t.co/Ud4ykLuGB8— Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) March 8, 2017
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."