American Ireland Gala Fund dinner hears immigration reforms must not lead to 'hostility and exclusion'

American Ireland Gala Fund dinner hears immigration reforms must not lead to 'hostility and exclusion'
George Mitchell.

Former US special envoy to Northern Ireland George Mitchell has issued a hard-hitting put down to the new US administration, insisting America is about diversity and not "who we want to keep out and throw out", writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith.

Speaking at the high-profile American Ireland Gala Fund dinner in Washington DC on Wednesday night in front of guest of honour and US vice-president, Mike Pence, Mr Mitchell said immigration reforms must not lead to "hostility and exclusion" for minority groups.

In a lengthy speech focussing specifically on the immigration issue, Mr Mitchell - whose mother was Lebanese and who played a key role in Northern Ireland's peace process - repeatedly stressed that "from the very beginning our country has been enriched by new ideas and new people".

And, while noting Irish-Americans have been among those involved, he pointedly added that "Jewish, Catholics, Italians, Africans and others" are also part of the fabric of the US - a situation he said must not be changed by any anti-immigration policies.

"Every rational American knows cannot return to days of open immigration.

"But we must work together on policies that focus on how live up to our principles as an open and just society, and how we can focus on who we want to enter not just on who we want to keep out and throw out.

"From the very beginning our country has been enriched by new ideas and new people.

"Six of seven noble peace prize recipients are immigrants. Apple was created by Jobs, whose family was from Syria. Genius knows no nationality, no race, no religion.

"The strength of America lies in our ideals. They're not easily summarised, but surely include individual liberty, opportunity for all, an independent judiciary and commitment to those ideals.

"Commitment to these ideals makes us Americans, not ideals, race or religion. Mr Pence, you carry with us the best wishes of living up to these requirements," he said.

The comments, which received a standing ovation and in the crowded hall and Mr Pence nodding in agreement, were made in what was widely acknowledged to be a conciliatory speech towards the new US administration.

However, despite the tone, the message was clear, with Mr Mitchell repeatedly emphasising the need to protect migrants at risk of controversial new policies.

The speech was made just hours after a Hawaiian federal judge blocked US president Donald Trump's revised Muslim travel ban from becoming law today, saying it was "flawed" - a view Mr Trump responded in Nashville, Tennessee as "judicial overreach".

Meanwhile, at the same American Ireland Gala Fund - which was also attended by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Ian Paisley junior and Democrat leader of the house of representatives Nancy Pelosi - US vice-president Mike Pence vowed to strengthen the close ties between Ireland and America.

In an emotional speech which saw him refer to his close Irish roots and his time spent as a child in Sligo and Mayo, Mr Pence said he was "proud to say with great confidence that our bound is strong and will grow stronger still".

He said his Irish-born grandfather was the first person who entered his mind when he was inaugurated vice-president earlier this year.

Mr Pence was notably emotional when he was presented with a framed plaque of his grandfather's primary school attendance roll from his childhood in Sligo and a similar carved image of his family tree.

However, despite acknowledging the close links between nations, he pointedly failed to extend his interest in migrants to those who are not Irish.

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