Donald Trump’s mother was born in Scotland; his paternal grandparents were German immigrants who came to America in the late-19th century and started their living as restaurateurs in New York’s red-light district.  Bernie Sanders’ father was a Holocaust survivor from Poland.  So why does neither candidate acknowledge the value of open borders, not only as a human rights concern, but as a valuable asset to a nation that prides itself as being built on immigration?  More interestingly, why are both candidates so appealing to a voter base made up of descendants of immigrants whose struggles closely paralleled those of modern-day immigrants?

It’s not uncommon to see people who are a part of formerly oppressed groups fail to recognize suffering in others today.  Last summer we saw Southwesterners – many of whom had ancestors who fled the Dust Bowl – protest the freedom of movement and search for opportunity pursued by undocumented immigrants.  Put aside the rife economic benefits of large-scale immigration that do not harm native-born workers.  It is odd that communities who have historically benefited from their ancestors’ ability to walk away from economic hardship would try to deny other communities that same ability.  

The past few weeks have seen debate surrounding the prevalence of employment discrimination against Irish-American Catholics in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  What’s more interesting than the debate itself (since it looks like one side is clearly winning) is the way in which Irish Americans have tended to abuse their history in order to justify their own nationalistic and xenophobic views, specifically toward Mexican and Muslim immigrants and their children.  Less than half of white Catholics polled by Pew Research Center have a favorable view of immigration.  Furthermore, just as anti-Catholic rhetoric often employed hysteria regarding a religious domination of America’s Protestant majority, Irish Catholics like Sean Hannity invoke paranoia using buzzwords like sharia and honor killings.  Despite the fact that the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were home to widespread hostility to European Catholic immigrants, too many of their descendants cannot relate to immigrants currently facing that hostility.

One might protest that America was built upon legal immigration, and that every American citizen and legal resident has either personally gone through a tenuous process to live here or has an ancestor who has.  However, until relatively recently in America there was very little meaning to the concept of illegal immigration, unless it was drawn along explicitly racial lines as in the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.  Furthermore, consider that Mexican immigrants are far more likely to be descended from indigenous Americans than today’s American workers.  To suggest that the former have less a right than the descendants of Europeans to work land on the other side of an arbitrary man-made border seems to indicate a justification of the legacy of colonialism.

Americans of any background have a tendency to take pride in their heritage and their history, as they should.  But they should learn of their ancestors’ suffering so that they can build bridges with those currently suffering, not to confirm their own superiority over them.

The article was written by Students For Liberty Campus Coordinator Rory McPeak.