House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), however, hasn’t been among the voices speaking out. Despite previously denouncing Trump’s campaign proposal for a “Muslim ban,” Ryan expressed his support for Trump’s order shortly after the president signed it on Friday, saying: “President Trump is right to make sure we are doing everything possible to know exactly who is entering our country.”
Ryan stood by Trump’s executive order on Tuesday, telling reporters that although the U.S. is “a generous country,” vetting procedures for people entering the country must be “up to snuff.”
But in a video message to Ryan published Monday on Mic News, Iranian-American scholar and author Reza Aslan suggested the House Speaker may be turning a blind eye to his own family’s history.
“You forgot your own identity,” Aslan said. “You forgot where you came from.”
Like millions of Americans, Ryan is descended from immigrants. The house speaker’s great-great grandfather, James Ryan, fled Ireland for America in 1851 at the tail-end of a devastating famine. Ryan has referenced his ancestry in the past, in part to throw support behind immigration reform.
During a 2012 forum on immigration reform, Ryan read from a 19th century pamphlet for Irish immigrants that described America as a land of opportunity for those willing to work for it.
“This is the American idea,” Ryan said after. “That’s the melting pot. That’s what people came then and now for. This is something that is in absolute keeping of our principles of our party and our country, and that’s why people like me are supporting immigration reform.”
Aslan pointed out that despite the promise of a better life, many Irish and Catholic immigrants faced brutal discrimination upon arrival in the U.S.
“The Irish were called alcoholics; they were called illiterate and uneducated, filthy, dirty, [and] untrustworthy,” Aslan said.
Anti-Irish sentiment became so virulent in the 19 century that an entire political party ― called the Know Nothings ― formed with the primary purpose of propagating distrust toward immigrants.
Many refugees and immigrants find themselves in similar situation today, trying to escape from hunger and persecution only to face discrimination when they reach America’s shores, Aslan said.
“They’re people exactly like your great great-grandparents,” Aslan said. “They’re people like my parents and like me who came here so that we could have a better life.”
Check out Aslan’s video above.