At a St. Patrick’s Day Luncheon on Thursday this week, the Irish Prime Minister, Enda Kenny, speaking of Irish citizens living in the US illegally said to the audience that included President Trump, “It would remove a burden of so many people that they can stand out in the light and say, now I am free to contribute to America as I know I can.” It is estimated that some 50,000 Irish have overstayed their visas and are living in the US illegally.
Speaking as the son of an Irish immigrant, whether an illegal alien is Irish, Mexican, Panamanian, Canadian, or German, it doesn’t matter. All new entrants to the US must obey our immigration laws. Our immigration laws, although feebily enforced since the late 1980’s were designed to serve the best interests of the citizens.
Anectdotally speaking, when my mother arrived in this country in 1952, she came at a time when immigration laws were strictly enforced. That year only 178,000 green cards were issued and all immigrants were required to have a sponsor, a sponsor that would be pecuniary liable for them and they had to meet with an immigration officer at least once a year. Today that might sound very restrictive, but in 1952 it was normal and to be expected.
My mother often told me the story of how after working in the accounting department of a hat manufcaturer for a few months she noticed an uptick in her pay. When she asked her supervisor about it, he responded that she had earned it because “they never had to double check her numbers.” The period from 1924 through 1965 when immigration was greatly restricted was an era where the economy worked well for both the native born and the immigrant. Everyone was doing well. There was no exploitation of new arrivals as we see today or existed prior to the mid-1920’s. Compare this to the plight of immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century whose lot was so bad, nearly 1/3 returned to their countries of origin. And let’s not lose site of the fact that it was time of economic improvement for the country’s minorities. A far greater percentage of black Americans escaped poverty between 1940 and 1970 than since 1970. And let’s be clear, as Jonette Christian, founder of Mainers for Sensible Immigration Policy aptly stated, “that post WWII period was a time of Jim Crowe laws and no help from whites.”
If I were Trump and Prime Minister Kenny had said that to me, I would have given him an earful. I woud have started with telling him how the US chooses to enforce his immigration laws is not his business. We don’t define the criteria for who Ireland lets into their country and he better not try to define ours. If there are 50,000 Irish here, he should probably get to work on rebuilding the Irish economy. For starters, Ireland didn’t have to bail out its banks in 2008. No depositors were at risk, only shareholders making bad business decisions. Perhaps President Trump could share some advice on the art of the deal with Kenny.