Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson speaks to employees of the agency in D.C. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Re...

Ben Carson refers to slaves as ‘immigrants’ in first speech to HUD

A few days after being sworn in as the new Housing and Urban Development secretary, Ben Carson described slaves as “immigrants” Monday in an address to department employees.

“That’s what America is about, a land of dreams and opportunity,” Carson said. “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,” he added.

The comparison prompted strong pushback on Twitter, including from actor Samuel L. Jackson (WARNING: strong language in his tweet), who all pointed out that slaves weren’t willing participants in their journey to Ellis Island.

Rana Hogarth, a slavery expert at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign told the Associated Press that Carson’s remarks were “inappropriate and wildly inaccurate.”

A HUD spokesperson told Michael Del Moro of Good Morning America that no one in the room thought the secretary “was confusing voluntary immigration with involuntary servitude. Please.”

A staffer on Carson’s team told the Washington Post that the department has many African-American employees, adding that people stood up and applauded at the end of the secretary’s remarks.

“Many went to take pictures of him,” the staffer said, speaking on background.

Another unnamed staffer told the Post that Carson’s point was that people didn’t just arrive at Ellis Island.

“If anything, I thought someone may have taken issue with the fact that he was pointing out it was rougher for black people,” the staffer said.

As a quick reminder, the retired neurosurgeon has a history of controversial comments.

READ MORE: 5 important stories you shouldn’t miss