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World & Nation

Joe Biden, in a speech in Ireland, warns against blaming immigrants for unrest

Joe Biden in Ireland
Vice President Joe Biden visits with local residents in Ballina during a tour of County Mayo, Ireland, on Wednesday.
(Paul McErlane / EPA)

Vice President Joe Biden condemned what he called the “un-American” response of “reactionary politicians and demagogues” who blame immigrants for economic and societal unrest, using a speech on the Irish American immigrant experience to deliver his second major rebuke of Donald Trump in a week.

Speaking at the Dublin Castle on the fourth day of a visit to Ireland, Biden said immigrants like his own Irish ancestors brought a spirit of optimism and possibility to U.S. shores.

He noted how his mother had instilled in him a pride in his Irish heritage, as well as “an absolute certitude that she or any of us were equal to any man or woman on Earth.”

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“We’re defined by a common creed that says our children, if they work hard, if they’re loyal, they can live a better life than the generation before them,” Biden said. “It’s defined by a simple, simple, simple belief that we share, that anything, anything, anything is possible, a belief shared by the vast majority of immigrant families that have come to the United States.”

Biden’s remarks were an especially timely response from the Obama administration just hours after the historic vote by Britain to leave the European Union amid rising anti-immigrant sentiment. 

The vice president said he and President Obama “preferred a different outcome” but respected the results of the vote.

“Our relationship with the U.K., with our allies across Europe, are indispensable for America’s economic, as well as national, security,” he said. “So as the leadership in London and Brussels determines what this new relationship will look like, we will continue to work with our partners to navigate a new road ahead while continuing to promote stability, security and prosperity around the world.”

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But at a time of “rising xenophobia,” Biden said it was important to remember the dreams his and other Americans’ ancestors held for their families as they traveled to the U.S. 

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While Ireland and the U.S. share values and are closely bound, many challenges remain: war, terrorism, economic unease “and the inevitable human reaction of frustration and anger.”

“All this provides fertile terrain for reactionary politicians and demagogues peddling xenophobia, nationalism and isolationism,” he said. “We see it in Europe, we see it in other parts of the world and we see it in my home country, where some politicians find it convenient to scapegoat immigrants instead of welcoming them; to play to our fears rather than, as Abraham Lincoln said, ‘to appeal to our better angels’; divide us based on religion or ethnicity rather than unite us in our common humanity; build walls instead of bridges.

“It is un-American what we have been seeing. I’m here to tell you it is not who we have become. It is not who we are,” he added. 

Biden’s comments came hours after Trump, just across the Irish Sea in Scotland, lauded the British vote as a victory for those who want to take their country back.

Biden arrived Tuesday for meetings with the country’s prime minister and president, including a round of golf with the former.

But his trip is a deeply personal one. Several generations of Bidens have joined him on an itinerary that includes stops in Counties Mayo and Louth, where their ancestors lived before heading to America.

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About the same time his great-great-grandfather Owen Finnegan left from Louth for the U.S., Biden noted, another shoemaker, Joseph Kearny from County Offaly, did the same, setting a course for his own descendant, President Obama.

“Could they ever have dreamt,” Biden asked, “that 160 years later, two great-great-grandsons of shoemakers from Ireland would be sworn in as president and vice president of the United States?”

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