TODAY'S immigrants are being demonised in the same way as Irish people who left Ireland during the Great Famine, Barack Obama has said.
The former US President, making his return to the public spotlight, said immigrants to the United States are treated like the “other” much like the Irish were in the 19th century.
Speaking to 400 students at the University of Chicago, where he once lectured constitutional law, Obama said that the way immigrants are discussed today bears a striking resemblance to what was said of Irish people at the height of the Famine.
Despite the problems immigrants face, Mr Obama added that he was “incredibly optimistic” about the future.
“I always used to say in crowds where folks didn’t want to hear it, it’s not like everyone in Ellis Island had all their papers straight,” Obama said, as he addressed the issue of migrants.
“The truth is the history of our immigration system has always been a little bit haphazard, a little bit loose, a little bit determined by did the country want more workers, economic imperatives, sometimes it was driven by biases.
“If you look at what was said about the Irish when they were coming here in the wake of the potato famine they talked about them the same way you hear people talking about immigrants today.”
He added: “This is an example of where everybody being able to see the realities of immigrants as people, not as some ‘other’ is important”.
Over 1.5 million people left Ireland between 1845 and 1855 as Ireland reeled from the effects of the Famine.
Mr Obama’s own great-great-great grandfather was among them; Falmouth Kearney from Co. Offaly fled famine-ravaged Ireland for New York aboard the ship Marmion on March 20, 1850.
The Chicago native did not directly comment upon Donald Trump’s presidency, in keeping with presidential protocol which dictates that former presidents do not openly criticise the current head of government.
However, the 55-year-old old did tell the crowd that he will remain active in politics.
“The single most important thing I can do is to help in any way I can to prepare the next generation of leadership to take up the baton,” he said.