Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson referred to slaves as "immigrants" while speaking Monday 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."

"There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships..." pic.twitter.com/WkFrm3dYCB

— Steve Kopack (@SteveKopack) March 6, 2017

A HUD spokesman told Good Morning America that no one present for Carson's speech "was confusing voluntary immigration with involuntary servitude. Please."

HUD did not immediately respond to a request for comment from USA TODAY.

Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who vied for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, was confirmed and sworn in as HUD secretary last week. He's never held public office before, nor is he versed in housing policy.

"Ben shares my optimism about the future of our country and is part of ensuring that this is a Presidency representing all Americans," Trump said in December when he announced Carson as his pick to head HUD.

Watch a video of Carson's full remarks here.