Recently, the President, Vice President, lawmakers and foreign officials welcomed Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny to Washington D.C. for the annual St. Patrick’s Day festivities. At the White House, the President highlighted the many contributions the Irish have made to our country, and spoke of the obstacles faced by the first Irish immigrants who came to the United States:
“When the first large wave of Irish immigrants set sail for the New World, many of them were already tired, hungry and desperately poor. And life wasn’t always easier in America. Many jobs were closed to Irish immigrants -- with signs announcing “No Irish Need Apply” -- and many of the ones that were available involved long and dirty and thankless tasks that made life difficult and often too short.”
As the President reminded us, Irish immigrants worked hard and persevered, becoming integral to their communities and the American family. Irish-Americans defended the United States in times of war and helped build the infrastructure of our cities. Many rose to be leaders of government, industry or culture, rising to city halls and eventually to Congress and the White House. They defended American values, making this country more free and equal for all Americans.
The Irish’s journey reminds us of today’s immigrants, individuals who are working hard to fulfill their own American dream. Together, they are driven by the most American of ideas – that with enough effort, anyone can build a decent life for their family and leave their children something better.
This is why President Obama remains firmly committed to fixing our broken immigration system. Not only do we need a pathway to earned citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already here, but we also have to fix our legal immigration system for thousands of immigrants waiting to start their lives in the United States. At his bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Kenny, the President discussed the importance of immigration reform for both countries, and the positive impact that reforming our immigration laws would have not only on the Irish, but also on families and communities across the country.
So the American Dream is the Irish-American dream. The journey of this country is founded on the principle that here, anything is possible with hard-work and determination. Importantly, we must remember the immigrant communities who are the building blocks of our nation, including the waves of Irish immigrants. We need an immigration system that honors our legacy as a nation of immigrants, and that is why the President continues to urge Congress to take action on immigration reform this year.
Kyle Lierman is an Associate Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement