December 8, 2014
No matter what an Irish Americans’s political persuasion might be, the public and political fallout of President Obama’s executive order on immigration should engender some personal and historical soul-searching. From the trenches of the Tea Party and the ultra-conservatives come the mutters and outcries of those who “want their country back.” The term is coda for many who want to stem the immigrant tide. People in their right minds grasp the dire need for control of the nation’s borders, but those who believe that deporting some 5 million to 11 million undocumented immigrants is either a moral or practical matter are delusional. Irish Americans need to remember that not so long ago, historically speaking, “real Americans” wanted to close the doors to Irish immigration.
Before anyone pontificates that all Irish immigrants came here legally through Castle Garden (New York City’s precursor to Ellis Island), Ellis Island, Deer Island, and other processing centers or quarantine stations, he or she should stop and consider that in the 1840s, when “hordes of ragged Irish” fled the Famine to America, our Canadian border was at least somewhat akin to today’s southern border. Many Irish simply walked across from Canada. One of the 1840s’ most controversial Irish immigrants, John Riley, organized and commanded the St. Patrick’s Battalion, to which many Irishmen deserted from the US Army and subsequently fought against their former regiments as members of the Mexican Army.
Another reason that Irish Americans should want immigration reform is that it still affects many men, women, and children from the “old sod.” Shortly after the president’s Nov. 20 announcement of his executive action on immigration, the Irish International Immigrant Center (IIIC) endorsed his move as “much needed for the many immigrant families who contribute so much to our communities.” While the order indisputably helps more people from Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and Latin America than other regions, the action also impacts undocumented immigrants from other spots – including Ireland.
The order is undeniably steeped in bare-knuckle politics, but despite the rantings of some in the media, it provides neither a “free ride” nor a “blank check” for anyone. The order also does not provide “amnesty.” The latter is a term that ripples downward into shameless and lazy media from anti-immigrant demagogues such as Congressman Steve King (Iowa) and the egregious Senator Ted Cruz (is it me or does he physically resemble a dark Irish American blast from the past – Senator Joe McCarthy?).
Regardless what one thinks of the president, all of this could have been avoided if the Tea Party-infected House of Representatives had not held Speaker Boehner hostage to his own caucus and prevented a vote to pass that most ephemeral thing in D.C. – a bipartisan immigration bill approved by the Senate. One historical fact is certain: America was built by immigrants, and not just those from the Emerald Isle.
Prejudice toward immigrants – “the other” – has run deep through America’s bloodlines from the earliest days of colonization, and there’s a harsh lesson that the GOP, besotted with its blowout victory in the 2014 midterm, will ignore at its peril in the 2016 national elections. In the post-election glow, a number of party leaders are publicly and privately persuading themselves that they can hold the Senate and win the White House without winning over more of the Latino vote. History shows that to be a delusion. Just ask the Brahmins of old how all that worked out when the Boston Irish finally exercised their collective muscle at the ballot.
Northern Irish golf great David Feherty exercised a different type of muscle, as well as spine, in recent days when he had the temerity to castigate golf Hall of Fame writer Dan Jenkins for a “satirical interview with Tiger Woods” that was penned or typed by the octogenarian Jenkins for Golf Digest. Touted by the magazine as “parody,” the piece was expressly labeled as fiction, so no harm, no foul there. Woods, however, fired off an angry missive to the publication and the famed author, decrying the piece as a “grudge-fueled piece of character assassination.”
There’s no mistaking the fact that Tiger Woods has never been one of the sport’s most lovable figures. Aloof and arrogant were terms the media and a large segment of the public tossed his way from his earliest days on the Tour. Still, gauging from the reactions from Tiger-haters – including many scribes who leaped to Jenkins’s defense with something between viciousness or worse toward Woods, one might have thought that Tiger had committed a capital crime. His fall from golfing and public grace has been chronicled ad nauseam, so why the sudden need for the estimable Jenkins to dredge up yesterday’s news?
That is exactly what Feherty asked on Dan Patrick’s popular ESPN show. The Northern Irishman offered that “it’s always been open season” on Tiger Woods and then committed “heresy” by stating that Jenkins and Golf Digest strayed from integrity by delving back into Woods’ crumbled marriage, the employees he sacked, and such old “gems” as his aversion to tipping.
Feherty mused, “I think I would be upset. It was mean-spirited and not particularly funny.” From a man who is a fine writer himself, Feherty’s dig at how badly Jenkins’s words failed as satire was a verbal drive ripped dead center down the fairway. He went on to note that few, if any, golfers have given more actual interviews than Woods, who, Feherty said, has answered a lifetime of questions from “forest of idiots,” himself [Feherty] included.
“I didn’t think I ever would, but I’ve kind of felt sorry for him, certainly on occasions,” Feherty said. “This latest thing, ringing up the fire hydrant and the divorce, like, really? Have we not heard enough of that?”
Amen to that. The Northern Irishman is correct that Jenkins’s satire was far from Dr. Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” and that we – some of us, at least – “have heard enough of that.”