Aamer Madhani, USA Today, March 21, 2013
Vice President Biden used his induction into the Irish America Hall of Fame to make the case for an overhaul of U.S. immigration laws, tying the plight of millions of undocumented Hispanics living in the United to States to what Irish immigrants faced when they arrived in the U.S. in the 19th century.
Speaking at a ceremony in New York on Thursday where he was being honored, Biden called on the audience to remember the xenophobia their ancestors faced, while noting that his personal success wouldn’t have been possible if his Irish ancestors were allowed in into the United States 19th century.
“The are 11 million [undocumented] Hispanics, who by the way, are just as proud, just as noble, care just as much about their families as we do,” Biden said at the event hosted by Irish America Magazine. “Like our forbearers, they possess overwhelming potential to build this great country. But today we are facing the most existential moment and we must ask ourselves: What do we stand for? What kind of nation are we? And perhaps most importantly, what kind of nation are we going to be become?”
Both the White House and Republican lawmakers say they are eager to complete legislation to revamp the nation’s immigration rules.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who is often mentioned as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016, is part of a bipartisan group of eight senators who are working on a plan. The White House has drafted a proposal that includes for allowing illegal immigrants to become legal permanent residents within eight years.
Biden also recalled during his induction speech a conversation he had earlier this week with Irish Prime Minister Edna Kenny, who was visiting Washington.
He and Kenny were talking about the plight of an estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish citizens currently living in United States, Biden said.
The prime minister said “‘Mr. Vice President imagine not being able to come home for your mother’s funeral and knowing you’ll never be able to come back,'” Biden recalled. “It’s not just the Irish. That’s a circumstance — not only for Irish undocumented — but Latinos, Asians and others.”
On a lighter note, Biden, who is five-eighths Irish, joked about his ancestry and upbringing in Scranton, Pa., a city with deep roots to Ireland.
“I would never dream that I would be in this position,” Biden said. “I’m not surprised that I am vice president, but I am surprised that I am in the Irish Hall of Fame.”