Tuesday, April 25, 2006

An unbearable tragedy

Nobody should have to make this decision, those where the dreadful words that a good friend of mine had to utter this last weekend. Her younger brother and his girlfriend were tragically killed in a car accident in Co. Kerry on Saturday night. The news was a terrible blow to lose a family member so young it was shocking for her but the unbearable pain for my friend was the most difficult decision of her life should she fly back to Ireland to attend the funeral and grieve with her parents and brothers and sisters?
My friend has been living here for fifteen years she received her nursing degree here, works here and pays taxes she is an Irish immigrant living in America. My friend is undocumented and because she originally overstayed her tourist visa she can not get sponsorship employment through her nursing degree, she has been trapped in an immigration nightmare with no visa available under current law for her.

If my friend goes home to attend her brothers funeral she risks losing everything she has here. My friends mother was the driving force behind helping her to come to a final decision. Her mother begged her not to go that with all that she had to deal with the guilt of my friends situation would have been a tremendous added stress. An extremely painful situation is turned into an utterly hopeless one because there is no time to grieve with family members and loved ones.
This is the saddest part of the immigrants story, the Irish immigrants of the past could not attend funerals in Ireland because you couldn't just jump on a plane and be in Ireland in six hours now the Irish immigrants can jump on a plane but get fingerprinted and told they can not come back. My friend is an avid supporter of ILIR and a very active member she is an ordinary decent person trying to cope with an extrodinary situation. There will be a mass here for her brother and all her friends and family members in America will attend to offer their support. This is the very reason why the ILIR can not fail, these are real human lives affected by this "no visa available for you" immigration policy. I felt so powerless and words were empty and useless there was very little to say or do to ease her pain. However there is something we all can do work harder to get her visa problem solved.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

We need each other

Firstly I would like to begin by saying my ancestors came here in 1660 to Virginia. I am therefore as American as any other immigrant has has come before or since then. My ancestors would have helped to run the Native Americans off their land and just like every other group that has come since Dutch, English, French, German, Irish, Jews, Chinese, African, Italians, Pols,Russians, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Mexican and every other nationality they all came in search of a better life.

We clearly have an immigration problem that needs to be fixed and a border that needs to be secured. We have an equal if not bigger problem than this one and the former may very well be the solution to the latter.

The fastest growing part of the American population is baby boomers retiring at the moment 13.6% of the population, about 37 million retired workers and accelerating so fast that by the year 2030 it will be over 71 million people. As of now there are 4.3 people paying into Social Security funds, Medicare and the likes for every person over 65 and these figures will drop to 2.1 by the year 2030. Social security and Medicare are the two greatest needs of elderly people and that is only fair they are after all the ones who paid in their whole working life. However the cost will rise 2.5% to 6.9% of the nations gross domestic product so even with the benefits about 10% of the elderly will fall below the official poverty line. Due to the rising cost of fuel, housing and basic needs those who have paid into private pensions will still need to get some social security and medicade. It is any wonder the government wants to get rid of both and after all we can just blame the illegal immigrants.

If we grant visas to all undocumented here now that are working we can immediately start to boost the funds. We would also need to bring in another 15 to 20 million workers over the next 15 years just to keep us ticking over. Elderly people in general do not have as much money to spend on everyday things and activities so we need the immigrants for example buses, trains, airplanes, cars, deli's and gas stations all making a living from working people using them daily. We should have the immigrants fill the gap, pay the taxes and not look a gift horse in the mouth. Just like Pocahontas's father said "I don't like those strangers send them back" four hundred years and millions of immigrants later we still hear the same old stupid argument. Your benefits will come out of the same fund immigrants will pay into and I think that is good for America.
A native immigrant Nathaniel James.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Immigration raids not so scary

I woke up today to the news of the immigrant raids that took place across America sweeping up illegal alien workers. It is terrifying to witness this as an undocumented immigrant and I knew that many other undocumented immigrants were watching it and feeling the same dreadful way. However after watching an interview in the afternoon on CNBC with a representative from the department for Homeland Security I felt a lot better. One of the points that this individual emphasized was that there is a need for these workers and that she hoped a comprehensive immigration bill will be passed so that these people can be legitimized thus putting an end to this kind of behavior once and for all. It was reassuring to hear from the very organization dealing with this problem everyday that these are symptoms of the disease and comprehensive immigration reform is the cure. Part of a statement released by the department of Homeland Security said they were not investigating individual illegal immigrants but large corporations with a string of violations.

As I watched the workers being handcuffed I felt sad and I thought of a girl I heard recently on a radio interview who with an American accent explained how she was illegal. Her parents brought her here when she was six years old, today she is twenty seven has known America as her only home and now with an education she can not get steady employment. The immigration situation is a tragedy for all involved. It is so easy to group these people together and disregard the real human face and story behind the immigrants who were lead out of that factory as workers for working. Working towards their future to feed their families to ensure a better life. If they are not a threat to America and they are needed to work we must fix this for everyone's sake.

I do not want a situation where any immigrant working is lying about their status along with their employer. I want a situation whereby if you have a job in the United States and an employer to sponsor you then you can apply for a temporary visa and after a certain amount of time if you have played by the rules and paid your taxes say after five years you can apply for citizenship. Unfortunately there is no such system for non-specialized workers which is leading to events like the IFCO one this week. If the guest worker programme with a pathway to citizenship was introduced it would stop these types of situations. All immigrants who have found steady employment in the United States would be recorded, have background checks done and be given valid social security numbers.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Watching the Senate

As an Irish undocumented immigrant living in the United States I will be closely watching the Senate come Monday. I sincerely hope that when they return after the break that they tackle the immigration bill put forward by Senator Spector.

How much longer can the Irish undocumented immigrants wait and hope. So many of them that I know have tried every possible avenue to obtain a visa but it is extremely difficult to do so. A recent piece by Anderson Cooper on CNN covered this and reported that it is practically impossible for non-specialized workers to get one. Which makes no sense considering the waves of immigrants that always came to America did non-specialized labor until they climbed the ladder. The point being that we need immigrants to do this kind of labor so we need a visa programme so they can do it legally. I was speaking to an American lady this weekend who told me she would like to see more Irish workers in the United States and that she was very sorry to recently discover that the number of Irish immigrants was dwindling down with every year. I suggested she call her representatives and tell them what she told me. She simply did not know that they can not get a visa and that is why they are not coming and the ones that are here are being forced out.

With the dawning of every new day the Irish immigrants are facing a bleak future. As time ticks by hope fades, the time draws closer to renew your drivers license, before you needed proof of residency now you need the precious social security number so your license slips away its one birthday you are not happy to celebrate. As time goes by a sick or elderly relative gets worse and you must miss another chance at a final goodbye or the time gets closer to your sisters wedding and you miss it and send another telegram. For the Irish immigrants its all about timing and now its the United States Senates time will they delay, let the chance slip through their fingers or will they help secure the future of these immigrants who love America so much.

Every argument put forward in this debate can find a solution in Specter's bill, secure the borders and offer a pathway to earned citizenship to the undocumented workers who already live in America if they are fined and pay back taxes and have to wait eleven years to file for citizenship it is not an amnesty.


Monday, April 03, 2006

Eilis takes a swipe at undocumented Irish again

Actually, we are not God's Own People in America
Sunday Independent, April 2nd 2006

KATHARINE Hepburn had it right: "Never complain, never explain." It's a philosophy all journalists should strive to emulate. If you're privileged enough to have a platform to communicate your views on various matters to readers, you shouldn't whinge if certain of them don't like what you say; and if you are wilfully misquoted or misread, then you shouldn't rush around trying to explain yourself to every howling detractor because, frankly, life's way too short and the world population of the perennially affronted much too vast.
There are exceptions to the rule, of course, and now I find that the Irish-born Dr Patrick Carroll of the University of California's Department of Sociology thinks I should be "fired, if not exiled from Ireland" for certain indubitably scabrous, sarcastic comments made recently in these pages about illegal Irish immigrants in the US.
Hang on, did I say illegal immigrants? Scrap that. If Nigerians and Poles come to Ireland without the proper authorisation, they're illegal immigrants. If we Irish do the same in other countries, then we are merely "undocumented". It makes it sound as if the lack of documentation is nothing but an unfortunate administration error.
Professor Carroll isn't the only one who wants to defend the, ahem, "undocumented" Irish in the US. The Irish Pastoral Center in Quincy, Massachusetts, not only wrote to this newspaper to complain, as is their absolute right, they also complained to the Irish Times as well. Barking up the wrong tree there, dears. Next time John Waters says something that annoys them, what are they going to do? Kick up a stink to the RTE Guide?
The details of the dispute are not necessarily significant. Basically, they're mightily offended at suggestions that Irish illegals are often racist, IRA-supporting, tax-evading scoundrels, and I think it's great fun to annoy the intellectual Murphia in Irish America by saying that they are, even if they aren't.
It's about delivering a much-needed kick up the pieties at a time when people back home are falling over themselves to show solidarity with this supposed lost tribe of our fellow countrymen stranded in desperate straits in . . . well, the world's most dynamic society and advanced economy, since you ask. Poor lambs.
A few points. If the illegal Irish in America already pay all their taxes, why did the Irish Government put its weight behind a proposal to let them gain legal status after six years once they paid their back taxes and a fine? And if the Irish in America were not a source of comfort and finance for Sinn Fein/IRA, why did republicans make such regular visits to the country for decades? It sure wasn't because they liked the taste of corned beef and cabbage.
The Irish Pastoral Center has a fair point to make, namely that "we can never forget our Irish abroad". We shouldn't. But nor should we expect everybody else to regard their situation with the same degree of sentiment and urgency.
That's the real problem with the whole debate on Irish illegals. It's the notion that somehow they are a class apart who should be treated differently from the other 11 million illegal immigrants in the US at present. Cubans, Mexicans, Chinese, Vietnamese, et al, have just as much or as little right to be in America as we have, and yet the tone adopted by the Irish when they talk about this is, as one American blogger remarked lately, "filled with a sense of entitlement, as if America is their spare country".
One reader immediately proved him right by responding that the Irish should be allowed to stay because we're "good, honest, hard-working creative, funny people and we deserve better". As if no other race on earth possesses any of these same qualities.
This is not about illegal immigration so much as the eternal Irish inability to stop thinking of ourselves as a race specially favoured by the Almighty. In Ireland, we may get away with pretending to be God's Own People with a wisdom and history and spirit unlike any other. In America, we just have to accept that we are one small stitch in a huge tapestry. The attitude that the other races should meekly take their places behind us in the queue purely because we are Irish and we built the skyscrapers and invented Guinness and sing such lovely songs and, sure, aren't we great crack altogether, irritates not just bloggers but other immigrants too.
The New York Sun was first to report the growing resentment of other ethnic groups at the political strings that are pulled by the Irish in an effort to get special treatment. You can hardly blame them.
Across the US, there are massive demonstrations by Hispanics, in particular, against plans to crack down on illegal immigrants. They see such measures as being aimed specifically at them. Many others resent illegal workers for, as they see it, pushing down wages. Many on the left think illegals, by being such easy fodder for the ruling classes, are inadvertently perpetuating an unjust social and economic system.
The arguments are complex and wide-ranging, but all we ever see is an Irish story. We seem to think "US" stands for "us" rather than "United States". This kind of solipsism is bad enough at home. In a country where so many other immigrants have fled to escape persecution, war, religious and political intolerance, and appalling poverty in search of a better life, suffering hardships and deprivations that we cannot begin to imagine, it's practically obscene to try to muscle to the head of the queue.
Thankfully, President Bush has so far remained unmoved by the entreaties of the Irish-American lobby, partly no doubt because he has little rapport with Irish America and also because so much of his support comes from the Hispanic community, which he is understandably reluctant to alienate by offering special treatment to illegals from one of the most prosperous nations on earth.
He also doesn't do that touchy-feely thing that Clinton perfected (Bill once punched the air during St Patrick's Day and yelled, "I feel more Irish each day!"), which, depending on one's taste, is either a shame or a relief.
I find it refreshing to have a US president who intends to treat the Irish the same as everyone else, and not get all misty-eyed just because his ancestors once lived in a cottage in Co Whatever.
That shouldn't be too hard for us to understand. It's in our own constitution: "All citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law." The principle of equality should be no less precious over there than over here.
Eilis O'Hanlon
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