Bill O'Reilly
Big news from the No Spin Zone. Bill O’Reilly has come out in favor of immigration reform.

“Talking Points’ supports immigration reform even though I well understand the new law will be somewhat chaotic and will be a magnet for even more people to come here illegally, which is why we need stepped-up security on the border,” O’Reilly said.

“For conservative Americans the issue is a difficult one because immigration reform would reward bad behavior — the illegal entry into the USA. But please keep in mind that part of that illegal behavior was actually encouraged by the federal government, which for decades did nothing to stop it. Also, some business people who make money from cheap labor aided and abetted illegal immigration.”

It’s pretty clear that a recent trip to Ireland spurred O’Reilly to think long and hard about this complex issue.  While on a trip to Galway last week, O’Reilly wrote in his syndicated column: “The intense debate over immigration reform in the USA has riveted many in this bucolic area in the west of Ireland.”

God bless O’Reilly for understanding the historic and economic importance of immigration to the U.S.

One problem. For all of his high-minded contemplation on this topic, O’Reilly bought into some of the worst kind of myths about immigration. 

Maybe it should be no surprise. Irish American conservatives are particularly prone to these comforting but ultimately false myths.

“Back when my people arrived from Galway in the 1840s, there was little social welfare or entitlements,” O’Reilly wrote. “You either earned your way or you wound up in the street. America did not support immigrants; it simply gave them a chance.”

Irish Americans and other second- and third-generation white ethnics love to peddle the notion that “back then” all immigrants worked hard, while today’s immigrants are too lazy to pick up their food stamps and welfare check.

Of course, O’Reilly is correct that at the time of the Famine there was little of the New Deal-style government programs aimed at alleviating poverty. 

But perhaps O’Reilly has never heard of the pugnacious immigrant from Tyrone whose stated mission was to provide cradle-to-grave social welfare for the Famine Irish, what he called “the scattered debris of the Irish nation.” 

Who was this Communist?  None other than Archbishop “Dagger” John Hughes, who understood the depth of Protestant disdain for the Irish and decided to simply create a Catholic world within a world for the Irish in America.

One shivers to imagine what would happen if a guest on O’Reilly’s TV show made such a glaring omission, erasing the vast tradition of Catholic charities from  American history.  I daresay O’Reilly might even accuse the poor fellow of being anti-Catholic.

Does that make O’Reilly himself anti-Catholic?  No. But he did make the same mistake quite a few WASP-centric historians make by failing to acknowledge the vast contribution the church made improving the lives of immigrants in mid-19th century America.

In fact, it was Hughes, in order to battle anti-Catholicism in education, who pushed for the removal of explicit religiosity in public schools.  Inadvertently (thanks to Protestant bigots), Hughes encouraged the construction of a strong wall separating church and state.

Combine Catholic social services with a fair bit of charity -- tainted by corruption or not -- from political machines such as Tammany Hall, not to mention good old government jobs serving as police officers and firefighters and its pretty clear the Irish, for all the bigotry they faced and hard work they put in, did have some help along the way.

Is it somehow better that Irish immigrants were “helping their own”?  You could argue that if it makes you feel better.

But I also suspect the prospect of today’s immigrants creating a dominant, Tammany Hall-style political machine to help “their own” would make more than few people uncomfortable.

O’Reilly and I can agree on one thing: “(M)ost illegal aliens are here to feed their families, not to cause trouble.”

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