Other groups push for immigration reform
Not all illegal immigrants are from Latin America; a number of them are from Asia, Europe.
By Eunice MoscosoWASHINGTON BUREAU
Sunday, September 10, 2006
WASHINGTON — There are certain things you can guarantee at a Capitol Hill immigration hearing: a forceful speech about national sovereignty, a partisan debate over the meaning of amnesty and, without fail, some green-and-white T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "Legalize the Irish."
The Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, which deploys members to attend congressional hearings, is one of many non-Hispanic organizations pushing for legislation to give illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.
Although most of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States are from Mexico and other Latin American countries, 1.5 million are from Asia, 600,000 are from Europe and Canada, and 400,000 are from Africa and other nations, according to estimates from the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization.
Groups representing many regions — from the large nations of India and China to the small island states of the Caribbean — are pressuring Congress to change immigration laws.
Niall O'Dowd, chairman of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, said his group was formed last year in response to the growing struggles of Irish illegal immigrants in the United States, which he estimates number 50,000 to 60,000.
O'Dowd said that many Irish came to the United States illegally and can no longer travel home because of security measures imposed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, often missing funerals and family emergencies.
In addition, he said, many have not been able to renew their driver's licenses, leading to situations in which parents cannot drive their kids to school.
"We want to impress on all these congressmen that this is a human issue," O'Dowd said.
The Irish group endorses a bipartisan measure that passed the Senate this year which establishes a large guest worker program and a path to citizenship for current illegal immigrants.
Under the measure, illegal immigrants who have been in the United States five years or longer could stay and eventually apply for U.S. citizenship if they have no criminal record, pay more than $3,000 in fines and back taxes and meet English requirements.
The House passed a significantly different immigration bill in December. The House bill makes an illegal presence in the United States a felony and does not include a temporary worker program or a path to legalization for illegal immigrants.
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