On Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden challenged the myth that ancestors of American citizens were legal immigrants, so the U.S. should not establish a path to citizenship for the nation’s undocumented population. Responding to one person who argued her family legally emigrated from Ireland in the 19th century, Biden explained his did not.
“My great-great grandparents came escaping the famine and they didn’t all come here legally,” Biden said, according to Politico. “They didn’t all come legally. And the existence of the system isn’t all truncated like it is now. I’d check your ancestry to make sure that they did come legally if that’s a concern to you.”
Republican lawmakers have routinely highlighted their families’ immigration histories, too. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has touted his Irish potato famine roots while House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) described himself as a “second-generation American” when arguing against keeping undocumented children in the shadows.
But Biden also reminded his audience that the broken immigration system today does not compare to the 1800s. Border enforcement spending and deportations are at their peak, but there exists no solution for the 11.7 million immigrants who live and work in the U.S., pay taxes, and raise families. Biden and President Obama have supported the efforts of immigration advocates who have focused pressure on House GOP by visiting congressional offices and fasting for the last month.
House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has still not brought comprehensive immigration reform to a vote, despite mounting pressure from his own caucus. With only days left in the legislative session, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) confirmed to reporters that Boehner will wait another year.