The Ancient Order of Hibernians has always played a dual roll regarding the immigration of people from Ireland to the United States. On one hand the AOH since its inception has been the longest serving and most important organization assisting newly arrived immigrants from Ireland and has persistently lobbied to make sure that the opportunity is always there for Irish men and women to immigrate to the United States.
Conversely the AOH has always dedicated itself to creating in Ireland favorable political and economic conditions that would make it unnecessary for Irish people to seek exile in America.
At the time of the Great Hunger when people were fleeing Ireland by the hundreds of thousands in order to escape misery, exploitation and death, AOH members were already present in the United States and stood ready to welcome and assist their fellow countrymen as they disembarked from the coffin ships.
The AOH with its widespread network of Divisions provided a place where immigrants could go for assistance and friendship. One of the great accomplishments of the AOH during the middle and later part of the nineteenth century was that it bonded together immigrants from all sections of Ireland into a common nationality.
AOH members who arrived in America with transfer cards from AOH divisions in Ireland were given $5.00 to tide them over while they sought work. Each AOH division has an employment committee that helps new arrivals find jobs.
In addition, each AOH division had a fund administered by a Sick Committee, which paid a benefit of $5.00 per week for members who were unable to work because of illness or injury.
When the Irish began immigrating in large numbers into the United States, they were often resented and efforts were made to prevent them from exercising the rights of citizenship. However since America needed cheap labor no serious effort was made to restrict Irish immigration until the early years of the 20th century when the United States Congress passed the Literacy Test Act of 1917.
The AOH vigorously opposed this Law and the subsequent Quota Acts of 1924 and 1927. Although the Irish were not as adversely affected by the Quota Laws as other groups, the AOH nevertheless lobbied to keep the promise of America open to all.
The AOH established programs to encourage and help its members to become American citizens in order to protect their rights and participate fully in American society.
Throughout the 20th century the AOH, through its Buy Irish Committee, has attempted to create job opportunities in Ireland and thus lessen the need for young Irish people to leave. Hibernians through their Freedom for all Ireland Committee have persistently sought peace with justice in the North of Ireland so that Catholics will not have to emigrate to escape persecution and discrimination.
Under the guise of reform, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1965. This law was supposed to end discrimination against immigrants from Southern Europe, Asia and Africa. It proved to be a disaster for those seeking to emigrate from Northern and Western Europe. Almost overnight immigration from Ireland to the United States was reduced to a trickle.
Despite non-stop lobbying efforts in Congress, the AOH could do little to change this law. In the early 1980s when poor economic conditions provided little opportunity in Ireland, thousands of young Irish who sought work in the United States found that they could not enter legally as their ancestors had done before them. Instead they were forced to enter illegally and live a furtive existence.
Through the efforts of the AOH and the Irish Immigration Reform Movement, Congress passed the Immigration Law of 1990, which provided the young Irish the opportunity to seek and obtain thousands of new visas which would allow them to legally enter and reside in the United States.
Today fewer people from Ireland are seeking to immigrate to the United States because of the improved economy in Ireland. Nerveless the AOH through its National Immigration Committee continues to work to insure that the Golden Door always remains open to people from Ireland who have contributed so much to history and growth of the American Nation.