What President Trump's Speech Left out About Irish Immigrants

March 16th 2017

Danielle DeCourcey

President Donald Trump celebrated St. Patrick's Day this week by welcoming Irish Prime Minister Edna Kenny to the White House for his first official visit. To many who observed the ceremony, Trump's comments neglected some key aspects of Irish-American history, and revealed a bias in favor of white immigrants.

President Donald Trump meets with Ireland's Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the Oval Office. On Thursday, at the "Friends of Ireland" luncheon, Trump lauded the "tremendous success" and contributions that Irish-Americans have made in the U.S, and quoted an Irish proverb about the importance of loyalty.

“Always remember to forget the friends who proved untrue but never forget to remember those who have stuck by you," Trump said. He also noted the two countries long history of friendly cooperation. “The people of the United States and the people of Ireland have stuck together,” he said.

Trump's friendly comments seemed to ignore the early history of Irish immigrants in the U.S.

A severe potato famine in the 1850s caused the first large waves of Irish immigration to the East Coast of the U.S., and even after the famine ended, the resulting poverty on the island continued to fuel Irish immigration to America into the 20th century. However, those immigrants were often discriminated against because of their religion and low economic status.

 Advertisement for a nanny that appeared in the Boston Transcript in 1868, stating "Positively no Irish need apply." Reprinted in "A Journey Through Boston Irish History" by Dennis P. Ryan, Arcadia Publishing, 1999.

In the mid-19th century the phrase "No Irish need apply" became popular in job listings, and other listings specified that applicants had to be Protestant or American, a clear effort to exclude Irish immigrants who were predominantly Catholic.

Kenny has previously criticized Trump's stance on immigration and Irish lawmaker Aodhán O’Riordáin have called him a "fascist" and a "monster."

"I don't use the term fascist lightly. What else would you call someone who threatens to imprison his political opponents?" O’Riordáin said. "What else would you call somebody who threatens to not allow people of a certain political faith into their country? What would you say, or what would you call somebody who was threatening to deport 10 million people?"

Donald Trump, Enda Kenny, and Paul Ryan in Washington, D.C.

Given Trump's racist comments about Mexicans, and his efforts to increase enforcement of immigration laws, some Twitter users made note of his notably softer tone about the Irish, given that they were also once an oppressed immigrant minority in the United States.

"Notice how Undocumented Brown Mexicans = 'rapists' but Undocumented White Irish = 'kinship?" asked Qasim Rashid, an attorney and Muslim activist.

An estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish immigrants live in the U.S., and CNN reported that their experience living in the U.S. is different in a key way; they're white.

"It is easier being illegal here when you're white," Shauna, an undocumented Irish immigrant, told CNN. "It's not easy, of course, you have that paranoia but there isn't the racial element. It's a bit easier to stay under the radar."

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