To T—- Mc—–:

I’m not going to bother quoting you; no reader will have any problem imagining what you said, and I’m loath to lend any appearance of legitimacy to your comments. But I am going to respond, even though my previous policy has always been to ignore trolls.

As a fellow Irish-American, I’m bewildered by your anti-immigrant, anti-asylum and, in its ultimate effect, anti-child rhetoric. I don’t know when your Irish forebears arrived in America, but mine got here in the mid-19th century, along with about a million others. That, as you’re fond of saying, is a fact. Most of them, probably just about all of them, were fleeing the Great Famine and the inhumane response of the oppressive British government. That’s another fact.

You assert that there’s a difference between legal and illegal immigrants—and that, by definition, is also a fact. The applicable definitions of “legal” and “illegal,” however, are considerably less precise—because our immigration laws themselves are subject to differing interpretations, just like all other legislation. That’s why we have judges and courts in addition to sheriffs and cops and ICE agents. And why our legal system includes a multi-level hierarchy of magisterial, district, superior, circuit, and other courts—all the way up to the Supreme Court.

But let’s leave that legal fluidity aside, along with the distinction (which you ignore) between illicit border crossers and legitimate asylum seekers. Let’s return to your “facts.”

You assert that your ancestors were “legal,” and that’s probably true. It’s probably true that mine were too. In fact, it’s probably true for almost all of those million Irish immigrants—and for the Italians and Germans and Poles and Norwegians as well—because at that time there were no government-imposed restrictions on non-Asian immigrants. No visa requirements either: if you could find a way to get here, in steerage or even as a stowaway, you could get in.

Nonetheless, the true legal status of many immigrants was often pretty fuzzy. Countless immigration forms from that era specified that the subject immigrants were entering with plans to join some nameless relative—“address unknown.”

Whatever their entry papers said, most of the Irish immigrants of that era wound up staying in the Northeast—New York, Boston, Philadelphia—where most of them wound up in rigidly circumscribed Irish neighborhoods. (The same thing happened to the Italians and Eastern Europeans; the Germans and Scandinavians generally pushed farther west before settling.) Wherever they wound up, most of them faced the same kind of hostility from the WASP Americans who were already here that you’re now expressing toward the Hispanics. And that leads to my bewilderment: I simply cannot understand how anyone of Irish descent (including those named Hannity, O’Reilly, Ryan and McConnell) can be anything other than welcoming to and supportive of immigrants, especially those fleeing inhumane conditions in their native lands.

But history does have a way of repeating itself, especially when self-interest is involved.

And, as Faulkner once said, “The past is not dead. It’s not even past.” Not all undocumented immigrants today are from Central and South America: the best estimate of the number of Irish nationals currently residing illegally in the U.S. is 50,000. But of course it’s easier for them to avoid detection, apprehension and deportation—because, contrary to the WASP rhetoric of 200 or 250 years ago, they are white.

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