America has for too long blamed and scapegoated immigrant populations for its ills. When British immigrants stopped being the only folks coming to America for a fresh start, they began to come from catholic countries.
That got self-righteous people to rise up and blame Catholics for all sorts of evils. They were unwelcome in many parts of the country, especially the south where they were persecuted along with African-Americans.
When famine hit Ireland there was a wave of immigrants from that grand island. They fled lack of work, lack of food and lack of a future. They too often met with discrimination in America. “Irish need not apply” read the signs in store windows of New York and the large cities where these Irish immigrants established themselves.
When Italy met hard times and the effects of WWI and later WWII, many immigrated to America for a new start, only to be met with discrimination and stuck with stereotypes. All Italians were members of the Mafia and were gangsters at best. Murders by Mafia gangsters left the impression that all Italians were thugs.
Jews fleeing a vast wave of antisemitism before, during and after WWII met with an uptick in discrimination in America, where they had immigrated to save their lives.
Wherever there has been upheaval, life-threatening living conditions, or poverty there have been decisions of peoples to leave their ancestral homes and go searching for a better life. Poles, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, you name it after wars and famine.
And whenever they got to America there tended to be too many who saw them as a threat. And yet they came. They faced the discrimination and stereotypes and went about helping to build a better life for themselves and in the process a better life for all Americans.
So it is with the recent thrust of immigration. Peoples fleeing dangerous living conditions at home, facing poverty and hunger, gangs and governments of thugs, they dared to take the chance to reach America.
The same response met them that met many of the families of people who now look down upon Hispanic peoples coming for freedom and for a chance to prove themselves. Just like our Irish, German, Italian, and others came to America.
Your ancestors, and mine.
It is bad enough that in a prosperous America where unemployment is low and job creation is growing, and where the population growth is slowing and unable to fill the needed labor for the future economy, that old habit of discrimination and demonization of sources of needed new labor raises its ugly head.
Worse, this time it is the President of the United States leading the chorus of demonizing and fear mongering.
He lists recent accounts of despicable behavior and crimes by members of the illegal immigrant community (as if they are the first illegal immigrants in American history) and uses those few examples to demonize an entire people.
Make no mistake about it, he is characterizing an entire category of people by his remarks, not just illegals. For most illegals in the country today came in on legal, time limited, passports and merely stayed … illegally. Where is the uproar about these folks?
Give me any ethnic group, or economic group, or any category of individuals and I will provide personal heartbreaking stories of individuals in each who have committed horrible crimes.
The president uses the oldest trick in the book of authoritarian leaders: blame the new guys, the vulnerable, the underrepresented. Blame the Irish, the Germans, the Jews, the Muslims, the Catholics.
This has got to stop. And it has to stop now, beginning at the top of our political system.
Richard Fulton is an emeritus professor of political science.