Jack Kemp

"My dear fellow immigrants," with these words President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sent greetings to the annual convention of the Daughters of the American Revolution, after the organization banned the great black contralto, Marian Anderson, from singing at their Constitution Hall in 1939 simply because of the color of her skin.

Marian Anderson chose the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to deliver her concert just days later, appropriately ending the concert with "God Bless America." Turning hate and ignorance into love and brotherhood is what marked the works of both Martin Luther King Jr. and Marian Anderson at the site of our American memorial to the Great Emancipator.

You ask, what's that to do with the immigration debate raging these past two weeks in Washington, D.C., and on talk radio all over America?

Well, to begin with, the voices of Roosevelt and Lincoln, preaching and practicing the American motto of "E pluribus unum," are all but absent these days, except for a few of those talking about fixing our broken borders and disabled immigration policies in humane, compassionate and progressive ways.

As President George W. Bush recently reminded us, America can still be a nation of immigrants while remaining a nation of laws if we treat people in the way we would want to be treated and find the right way of enforcement.

The most troubling aspect of this debate is the meanness of spirit toward immigrants, particularly those of Latino or Hispanic heritage. But, it's nothing new, as the Irish, Poles, Germans, Italians, Asians and others were treated the same decades and decades ago.

According to Michael Barone's "The New Americans," a closer look at the Great Migration of the 19th century reveals striking parallels to the current circumstances of the American immigration. The examples of two groups often cited by modern day advocates of restricting immigration - the Irish and the Italians - are particularly instructive.

During the last half of the 1800s and into the 20th century, more than 4 million Irish men, women and children immigrated to the United States. Fleeing the potato famine of the 1840s and seeking economic opportunity, Irish immigrants settled in urban areas starting in the Northeast and eventually spreading across the country. Many of these early immigrants did not speak English. One estimate held that at least one-third of them spoke little English.

Jack Kemp

Jack Kemp is Founder and Chairman of Kemp Partners and a contributing columnist to Townhall.com.
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