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Congressman Luis Gutierrez

Representing the 4th District of Illinois

To Mark World Refugee Day, GOP Will Slash Refugees, Erect Barriers for Asylum Seekers & Make It Harder for Central American Children

June 21, 2017
Press Release
“Who can imagine America without the Irish today? As House Republicans vote today to pass bills to keep out the ‘wretched refuse of your teeming shore’… I hope all of us will reflect on those ancestors as we deliberate laws that would have kept many of them out.”

Washington, DC – Today, Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL) spoke on the House floor to take note of the hearing this morning in the House Judiciary Committee to pass Republican bills to slash refugee numbers and make it harder for asylum seekers to find safety in the U.S.  This comes just one day after World Refugee Day, a day “to reflect upon those in crisis and dedicate ourselves to helping those we can help,” the Congressman said.

Standing in front of a replica of the “Irish Need Not Apply” signs from the 19th century, Rep. Gutiérrez noted that the bills voted on in Committee today would have kept many of the Irish out.  He said:

Roughly 32 million Americans trace their roots to Ireland, that’s about 10% of the U.S. population. And, let’s be clear, the British rulers over Ireland were not sending what they considered their best people. They were poor, they were uneducated, and U.S. politicians at the time said they were sending rapists and murderers and drunks – even if some, they assumed, were good people… But who can imagine America without the Irish today?

In his speech, Rep. Gutiérrez recalled the history of – and resistance to – Irish migration, the quarantines and laws to keep them out, and the fear of Catholicism.  He said:

A lot of this sounds familiar to me today as we discuss the Muslim Ban that the courts have blocked and which motivated thousands of Americans to go to airports to demand that the United States honor its visas and honor its commitment to refugees; Or as the House Judiciary Committee meets today to punish children fleeing violence in Central America.

The Congressman, concluded by noting that the current Speaker of the House and countless others in the Congress, the White House and throughout American society, are descendants of the Irish Catholic wave of migrants, and that they should heed the words, just this past weekend, of Pope Francis who discussed the benefits of meeting with and getting to know refugees.  The Congressman said:

His Holiness said “personal meetings with refugees can dissolve fears and distorted ideologies and become paths for growth in humanity.” Mr. Speaker, I hope my Republican colleagues, including our Speaker who is both Irish and Catholic, had been listening, but I fear they were not.

A video of the Congressman’s floor speech is here: https://youtu.be/Lha5qLd7rgI

The text (as prepared for delivery) is pasted below.

Rep. Gutiérrez is in his 13th term representing the Fourth District of Illinois.  He is a Member of the Judiciary Committee and is the Chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

FLOOR SPEECH

June 21, 2017

Mr. Speaker: Yesterday was World Refugee Day, a day set aside by the United Nations to reflect upon those in crisis and dedicate ourselves to helping those we can help.

To mark this solemn occasion, today in the Judiciary Committee, House Republicans will vote to slash refugee resettlement numbers, cut back aid to those fleeing violence and persecution for their religious or political beliefs, and make it harder for children fleeing violence – especially those from Central America – from receiving asylum from the richest, freest nation in the world.

Tell me, how does that “Make America Great Again” Mr. Speaker?

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, there are more than 65 million people—a record number—who have been forcibly displaced from their homes.  More than 21 million are refugees.

War – like the fighting in Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria – is one of the main causes of displacement.  Almost half of the Syrian population has been displaced.

But famine and political persecution, instability and violence are also big contributing factors.

86 percent of the world’s refugees are now finding refuge in the developing world, with only 14 percent finding refuge in developed countries like the U.S., Canada and European nations.

Worldwide, more than half of all refugees are children under 18.

So when anti-immigrant leaders, websites, and TV networks paint those fleeing the Middle East, Africa and Asia as hardened jihadists – or those fleeing Central America as gang-leaders and drug kingpins – remember, for the most part, we are actually talking about children fleeing for their lives, with their parents who are desperate to find a safe place for their children to grow up and thrive.

Mr. Speaker, America has throughout our history been a beacon of hope to refugees fleeing religious attacks, facing government intolerance and persecution, ethnic strife or unsustainable poverty.

And this dates back long before those words were etched in the Statue of Liberty about “give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” 

Beginning in the 1840s, when the potato crop disappeared because of a blight in Ireland, the Irish people were left starving.

Of the 8 million people in Ireland, 3 to 4 million faced starvation, about 1 million died, mostly of starvation and disease, and another 2 million came to North America, primarily to the US and Canada.

According to a recent article in The Irish Times,

“Panic had set in by winter 1846/47. People risked winter voyages across the Atlantic on unsanitary, unsafe ‘coffin ships’”

The article continues:

“People were placed in quarantine stations, or held onboard ships docked at ports…Refugees experienced violent and racist reactions. Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh, Montreal, Boston, New York and Philadelphia sought unsuccessfully to restrict entry.”

A lot of this sounds familiar to me today as we discuss the Muslim Ban that the courts have blocked and which motivated thousands of Americans to go to airports to demand that the United States honor its visas and honor its commitment to refugees; Or as the House Judiciary Committee meets today to punish children fleeing violence in Central America.

Roughly 32 million Americans trace their roots to Ireland, that’s about 10% of the U.S. population. 

And, let’s be clear, the British rulers over Ireland were not sending what they considered their best people.  They were poor, they were uneducated, and U.S. politicians at the time said they were sending rapists and murderers and drunks – even if some, they assumed, were good people.

They were from a religion that threatened the United States.  They were Catholics, who were as foreign to American Protestants in some regards as Muslims are today.

Americans said they would never be loyal to the U.S. and would only be loyal to Rome.  They did not share our values of hard work and family, of sobriety or abiding by laws.

But who can imagine America without the Irish today?

You look down the list of Generals and Presidents, Members of Congress, Senators, entertainers, business leaders and every aspect of American society – today in America we can all say we are Irish to some degree.

As House Republicans vote today to pass bills to keep out the “wretched refuse of your teeming shore…” – as we pass laws to pull up the draw bridge and put a big “Do Not Enter” sign on the Statue of Liberty, I hope my Republican colleagues who can trace roots back to someone who came across the water, risked everything, and bet their lives on the United States – I hope all of us will reflect on those ancestors as we deliberate laws that would have kept many of them out.

His Holiness Pope Francis, who we all remember spoke just steps from where I am now and reminded us to always remember the Golden Rule in all our deliberations – Pope Francis said just this past Sunday that the nations of the world should continue to welcome refugees; and each of us as individuals can learn a lot by meeting with, speaking with, and breaking bread with refugees.  His Holiness said, “personal meetings with refugees can dissolve fears and distorted ideologies and become paths for growth in humanity.”

Mr. Speaker, I hope my Republican colleagues, including our Speaker who is both Irish and Catholic, had been listening, but I fear they were not.

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