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Vice President Joe Biden speaks about immigration and his Irish roots at Irish America magazine event. Photo by: Irish American Magazine / Sade Joseph

Joe Biden’s message on immigration reform

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Vice President Joe Biden speaks about immigration and his Irish roots at Irish America magazine event. Photo by: Irish American Magazine / Sade Joseph

The presence of Vice President Joe Biden at the Irish America magazine Hall of Fame event, in New York, said volumes about how important his Irish heritage is to him.

Biden jumped right into the crowd after speaking and shook every hand in sight, kissed every grandmother and generally gave his best James Michael Curley impression as a glad hander and local politician par excellence.

But don’t be fooled by the jovial Joe exterior. His speech to the assembled Irish Americans, while initially about his roots and powerful in its evocation of his Irish heritage, was also aimed at effecting a sea change in some Irish attitudes to immigration.

Biden noted that he hosted Taoiseach Enda Kenny for an Irish breakfast at the vice presidential residence, and Kenny told Biden about the Irish who couldn’t come home for funerals because of their status here.

Biden went on to make a critical point. "It's not just the Irish. That's a circumstance not only for Irish undocumented, but Latinos, Asians and others,” he said.

“We need to find a fair and effective and decent way to take them out of the shadows.”

Biden talked about the history of discrimination against Irish Catholics going back to the Ku Klux Klan days when the Irish Catholic religion was almost as big an issue as blacks.

Biden wanted the audience to connect the dots to understand that the struggle of the Irish then was that of many of the Hispanics today.

All of this has become increasingly important in the current climate where immigration reform has become a top table item.

President Obama specifically mentioned the White House being built by an Irish immigrant, James Hoban, when he spoke to a group of Hispanics and other ethnic groups who became U.S. citizens.

As white ethnics, the Irish can play a major role in pointing to their own history and their extraordinary level of accomplishments, from famine ships to the White House, in a little over a century.

There are many immigrant groups now coming who can mirror that type of achievement too, but they should also include Irish who are effectively locked out of the U.S. since the 1965 Immigration Act.

Biden has linked the two immigrant realities from the past down to the present day. His speech at the Irish America Hall of Fame event was a call to action that must not be ignored.

Originally published in 2013.

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