Standing just feet away from President Donald Trump, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny on Thursday bashed the basic foundation of anti-immigrant views that carried Trump to the presidency.
In his remarks, Kenny launched into a lengthy monologue about St. Patrick, whom the White House proceedings were honoring.
It’s fitting that we gather here each year to celebrate St. Patrick and his legacy. He too of course was an immigrant. And though he is, of course, the patron saint of Ireland, for many people around the globe he’s also a symbol of — indeed the patron of — immigrants.
Here in America, in your great country, 35 million people claim Irish heritage, and the Irish have contributed to the economic, social, political, and cultural life of this great country over the last 200 years. Ireland came to America because, deprived of liberty, deprived of opportunity, of safety, of even food itself, the Irish believed.
And four decades before Lady Liberty lifted her lamp, we were the wretched refuse on the teeming shore. We believed in the shelter of America, in the compassion of America, in the opportunity of America. We came and we became Americans. We lived the words of John F. Kennedy long before he uttered them: We asked not what America can do for us, but what we could do for America. And we still do.
It’s impossible to ignore the parallels to modern immigration that Kenny is drawing on here. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Irish immigrants were viewed much as Latino immigrants are viewed today — people of a different race, who supposedly (but not actually) commit more crimes, and who are taking jobs from native-born Americans. This anti-immigrant resentment is why America passed anti-immigration laws in the early 20th century.
Now we take Irish contributions to America for granted. Irish Americans are simply our neighbors, who have helped build up the economy and have contributed to US culture — by, for example, giving us St. Patrick’s Day.
The immigrants that Trump decried on the campaign trail — by calling them rapists and criminals and proposing policies to restrict illegal and legal immigration — simply share the same hopes and dreams. Deprived of opportunity and freedom in their home countries, they want to build a free and prosperous life in America. Trump is now, just like anti-immigration politicians of previous eras, the one standing in the way of that.