Friday, February 9, 2007
Irish immigrants and Irish Americans in the Bay Area are mobilizing for another round of activism in the debate over illegal immigration.
About 1,500 people turned out for an immigration reform rally in San Francisco last week, and 150 plan to head to Washington, D.C., next month to join a protest with the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, a national group working to legalize undocumented immigrants.
She said she feels a sense of commonality with illegal immigrants from
"We're all in the same boat," she said. "The Irish are lucky because we speak English and we're white: We do get treated better. But we (undocumented immigrants) are all hard workers. We all want a better life."
Though the Irish are only a small slice of the country's illegal immigrant population, their outspoken activism has added another dimension to the public perception of illegal immigrants, said Angela Kelley, deputy director of the National Immigration Forum in
"They came last year with these white T-shirts that said 'Legalize the Irish,' and people kind of stopped and paused and looked twice at them on Capitol Hill," she said. "There's a substantial Asian population, a substantial Irish population; it's not just a Latino issue. They serve as a helpful reminder of how multifaceted the debate is. "
The Irish have a lot in common with other immigrant groups in
"That understanding makes people willing to band together and see the Irish experience as part of a larger immigrant story," said McPeake.
Celine Kennelly, director of
"The immigration system absolutely needs to be fixed," said Kennelly. The undocumented Irish "have employed people, they've paid taxes, they've contributed favorably to society, they've tried every visa option and entered the 'green card' lottery every year. But it's becoming impossible to live here without a Social Security number and a driver's license. It's a pressured situation."
Elaine said she wants to become a legal permanent
"If everyone's quiet, nothing will happen," said Elaine. "I might as well speak out and feel like I've done something."
Kennelly said she's hopeful that, with Congress now in Democratic hands, it will pass an immigration bill this year that includes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and more legal avenues for foreign citizens to work in the
"We're going to keep knocking on doors and letting people know this is a huge Irish issue," she said. "We need to have it addressed in a timely and proper manner."
Immigration will be a topic of discussion at the Crossroads Irish-American Festival in
For more information on the festival, call (415) 437-3427.