What Yesterday’s Irish Immigrants Tell Us About Today’s Refugees

This week everything around us turns green. We are all proud to be Irish. It is hard to imagine that just over 150 years ago the Irish were refugees disdained for their poverty and their religion. If slavery is the United States’ original sin, the treatment of the Irish is the British’s. Truly past is prologue. Swift’s ‘modest proposal’ could be written today with equal parts sarcasm and horror. We would merely need to insert Muslim refugees or Refugees from our southern border as the main object of the piece. How ironic that now we celebrate the Irish who came here as desperate refugees and we turn our back on our modern plight, which is every bit as real as the ‘great hunger’ as it was called in the 19th century. The same old tired fear-mongering, religious bigotry and xenophobia used to justify punishing the Irish is used today to deny and demonize those in most need.

Approximately 1.5 million Irish immigrated to the United States between 1845 and 1855 forever changing the landscape of this country. Who now looks back on history and thinks we should have denied them from coming? But that’s exactly what we’re doing now to those who need us most. History will look back on this moment as a failure. A failure of morality, courage and human decency. Of the nearly 80 million refugees in the world, half are children. So, for those of us who will wear green and celebrate the Irish, let’s stop a moment and think about what we owe to those impoverished refugees from more than 150 years ago, and what we stand to lose if we don’t live up to our moral obligation to help those that are in such desperation today.