Mayor Jim Kenney (right) with Jack Butler and Jim Regan of Irish Small Business-Big Impact 50 sponsors MRP.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has told an Irish American business audience that the Irish should lead the way when it comes to welcoming immigrants to the United States.

"Part of the problem in the immigration debate is that too many of our own people don’t know our own history,” he said in his address to the Irish Small Business-Big Impact 50 Awards in the Union League of Philadelphia. 

"And when they take somewhat unfortunate positions on who should be able to come to this country now, I think they need to go read the 1840s history book about what happened in Philadelphia and in America. We were a Papist plot to take over and overthrow the United States government according to the know-nothings. Two of our churches in Philadelphia were burnt to the ground.”

The Philly Mayor said no-one was in a better position than Irish Americans to put the record straight today.

“If we continue as immigrants and as the descendants of immigrants to explain the importance of diversity and of immigration to our country and progress, I think we will make some headway. As hyphenated Americans, Italian-American, Irish American, Polish-American, Jewish-American, all of us came from somewhere else. Columbus didn’t discover America, it was already discovered.”

The racist taunts of the past have no place today, he added.

"No Irish Need Apply and Go Back to Where You Came From, all those things that were said to us, I’d hate to have them repeated in Philadelphia today. And I really do think we can play a role in explaining why it’s important for us, not to be an open border, but to be a welcoming city and a welcoming country to people from around the world. Diversity is our strength.”

Mayor Kenney said Philadelphia’s new immigrants would follow in the footsteps of successful Irish Americans. “The Irish, we prevail,” he added. “We fought the wars —  my own great-great-grandfather fought at Gettysburg in the Pennsylvania 71st. We have set our roots here and because of many of our religious beliefs we have to be welcoming to people and give people an opportunity because at some point they will be sitting where you are sitting now.”

The Mayor was guest of honor at the Irish Echo-hosted business awards in the City of Brotherly Love where business founders from across the US were honored. Partners in the event were led by the Irish American Business Chamber and Network of Philadelphia, the largest Irish-owned business in Philadelphia, MRP, and Údarás na Gaeltachta.

You can see the Mayor’s full remarks here: