HAMPDEN — Three years since President Trump’s election, his demonization of immigrants remains at fever pitch.

The son of an immigrant mother himself, he is reportedly considering Ken Cuccinelli for homeland security secretary, in order to press for hard-line immigration policies. Cuccinelli, acting head of Citizenship and Immigration Services, recently suggested that birthright citizenship – a bedrock of American democracy for centuries – can end without a constitutional amendment.

Meanwhile, President Trump continues to demonize the immigrant community, even signing a proclamation barring legal immigrants who cannot prove they will have health care coverage (or the means to pay for it) within 30 days of their arrival to the United States. This affects immigrants applying for visas from overseas, in addition to the spouses and parents of U.S. citizens and immediate family members of lawful permanent residents.

This is antithetical to our American values – of openness and tolerance of all. It also flies in the face of economic reality, given the millions of jobs and billions of dollars in economic output that immigrants contribute annually.

Unfortunately, the demonization of immigrants is not a new practice. We have a long and unfortunate history of doing just that, even though we are a nation of immigrants. What makes today’s attacks on the character of foreigners seeking refuge in America unique and particularly disturbing is that they are coming from the White House.

As far back as the 19th century, immigrants were a favorite target of those already living here. The demonization of yesteryear may not have been state-sponsored (although it often was that, too), but it was no less vile and disturbing.

  • Central Maine Opinion
    Enter your email and each Sunday we'll send you our opinion section picks of the week.

As documented in my recently published historical novel “An Irish Immigrant Story,” Irish refugees trying to escape the Great Famine of the 1840s were treated deplorably upon their arrival in America. “Irish need not apply” signs were common, along with crueler slogans like “no dogs, no pigs, no Irish.” In Boston Harbor – a popular destination for Europeans seeking a better life – Irish immigrants were quarantined on Deer Island before they were allowed to enter the city, because they were supposedly “dirty and often diseased.” One newspaper opined that sending the Irish back to their home country would solve America’s crime problems.

Does that remind you of a certain someone, who calls for his political opponents to “go back” where they came from?

Such hateful rhetoric has real-world consequences, as it did then. Irish immigrants barred from employment by a bigoted population were reduced to begging in the streets, living in dire poverty. In Boston, the 37,000 Irish immigrants who arrived in 1847 increased the city’s population by over 30 percent, and many were denied employment opportunities.

French Canadians and Italians were also treated unfairly. Those from Asia often had it even worse.

While these were not immigrants from Mexico – the Trump administration’s favorite target – the basis of our nation’s cruelty was the same: Bigotry.

Fortunately, the immigrants of the past endured, helping to build America into what it is today. They started businesses, created new jobs, filled existing ones, fought in America’s wars and led her communities at a time when such communities were routinely scapegoated.

But have we learned nothing from the past? Aren’t we more evolved as a society now, opening doors rather than building walls?

Today, we hear of Mexicans described as murderers, rapists and drug dealers. Immigrant families are separated and children are caged, all in the name of protecting “America’s interests.”

But immigration is in America’s best interest. It always has been.

Throughout “An Irish Immigrant Story,” it becomes clear that the demonization of Irish immigrants most often came from small-minded citizens. Today, that same demonization is coming from the office that historically embodied the true character of America – a nation that stands for higher ideals. It is coming from the leader of the free world, and it is unacceptable.

Dating to 1630, the new land that we now call America was seen as “a city on a hill.” Now, are we to believe that a wall stands between that city and the rest of the world? Between “us” and “them”?

We can do better. We must do better. As the writer George Santayana famously said, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

America’s history has indeed been filled with doom and gloom for millions of immigrants. And President Trump will doom us to repeat it – unless we, the children of immigrants, say “no more.”

Comments are not available on this story.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.