Irish immigrants entering the US from the sixteenth to twentieth centuries made incalculable contributions to our politics, organized labor, religion, literature, music, and art. But today’s appreciation of the Irish wasn’t always the case – when Irish refugees arrived in the 1840s, they endured violence, discrimination and religious persecution. The same was true for Chinese, Italian and German immigrants seeking refuge from poverty or violence – all came with little more than the hope of a better future and a willingness to work — and America obliged.
We’ve all seen the horrors unfolding in Ukraine, millions fleeing the bombing of their cities, victims who’ve lost everything now facing an uncertain future … this should give us all pause for how much we often take for granted. For all the outrages, I’ve also been uplifted by the scenes of Ukraine’s neighbors greeting travelers at the border with food, shelter, clothing, medicine and, most importantly, hope that things will improve. That investment in simple acts of human kindness will be repaid in countless ways for generations to come …
Introduced last November by Democrats in Congress, the “Citizenship Act” would provide millions of hard-working, undocumented immigrants with a pathway to citizenship – including Dreamers. It will also make technological investments to humanely manage security of our borders, and address the root causes of migration.
American values and our respect for human rights requires updating our immigration laws to keep families together and eliminate discrimination facing LGBTQ+ families. We must actively support asylum seekers and other vulnerable populations by reducing application backlogs – it’s happening across Europe daily with the orderly resettlement of Ukranian refugees, the United States can and must do better.
A rebuilt immigration system is one where the rules are clear to all: there are legal, accessible pathways for people to enter and remain in the US; and the penalties for violating those rules are fair and just. Such a system would honor America’s heritage as both a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws — and would be one of which all Americans could be proud.
The refugees that fled the Great Hunger of the late-1840s and the 32 million Americans of Irish-descent today strengthened the United States, not destroyed it. A country that once reviled the Irish now embraces their cultural heritage and traditions – and always wears green on Saint Patrick’s Day. That’s something to raise a glass to.