The Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform applauds President Obama for his courageous step forward in declaring his commitment to a comprehensive overhaul of our broken immigration system.
The President affirmed that as a nation we need to find a solution to the over 11 million undocumented immigrants, including 50,000 Irish workers, living in the shadows of our country. He spoke one day after 8 Democratic and Republican senators set out a bipartisan road map for a long overdue immigration reform bill.
In his speech, he specified three pillars of immigration reform: better enforcement of immigration laws, providing a path to citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country, and reforming the legal immigration system.
In words that reminded us all of our immigrant heritage, he added, "The Irish who left behind a land of famine; the Germans who fled persecution; the Scandinavians who arrived eager to pioneer out west; the Polish, the Russians, the Italians, the Chinese, the Japanese, the West Indians -- the huddled masses who came through Ellis Island on one coast and Angel Island on the other. All those folks before they were us, they were them."
In so doing he captured the very essence of the current debate: every wave of immigrants to these shores has been less than welcome at first. Indeed the Irish, who have risen to the very top echelons of American civic society, were once such unwelcome arrivals.
In 1855 one editor in Chicago wrote. “You know what we ought to do with these immigrants, especially the ones who are impoverished and walking around the streets,” he said. “Put strychnine in immigrants food. Dress every pole in Chicago with an Irishman, hang them from them.”
Today the Irish community, in solidarity with our immigrant cousins, is hopeful as we move forward.
We are confident that the tide of history is on our side and that the promise of this great nation will be fulfilled for another eager and worthy generation.
I would like again to thank President Obama and our representatives in the Senate for their leadership on this issue. The Irish immigrant community fully supports them and welcomes the progress to come.
*Billy Lawless is the Chairman of the Chicago Celts for immigration Reform and a Board Member Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.