Category: Archive

President recalls anti-Irish prejudice

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Susan Falvella-Garraty

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On a weekend fund-raising trip to the West Coast, President Clinton highlighted the prejudice Irish immigrants once faced when they arrived in America.

Speaking in Portland, Ore., Clinton described the use of the “No Dogs or Irish” signs hung in windows just before the turn of the century when huge numbers of Irish came to the United States seeking a better life. He said current efforts to discourage immigration and any newcomers their rights is similar to the old days.

“My fellow Americans, the descendants of those who passed through the portals of Ellis Island must never lock the door behind us,” Clinton said at the commencement address at Portland State University over the weekend.

Explaining that demographic trends indicate that in 50 years America will arrive at a time when there is no majority race in the country, Clinton said today’s challenges are similar to over a century ago. At that time Irish immigrants often were degraded by signs that read “No Dogs or Irish,” Chinese were barred, and Southern and Eastern Europeans were subjected to restrictive literacy tests.

“Now, we are being tested again – by a new wave of immigration larger than any in a century,” Clinton said. “It can either strengthen and unite America, or weaken and divide us. We must decide.”

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The speech was interrupted a number of times for applause from the audience.

Clinton warned new arrivals that they will shoulder responsibility once here: “Embrace our culture. Learn our language. Know our history. Become citizens. Become Americans.”

The president said, on average, immigrants annually pay $1,800 more in taxes than they cost the government in health, education or other benefits.

Clinton stressed that certain policies developed recently are products of anti-immigrant fear. He singled out a recent ballot initiative in California to dismantle bilingual instruction. He also remarked on efforts by congressional Republicans to deny legal immigrants food stamps and block the administration’s proposal for revised census-taking – by so-called “sampling” – to take better account of minorities.

“My fellow Americans, it is more than wrong. It is un-American,’ he said.

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