Friday, February 09, 2007

Irish make their presence felt in fight over illegal immigration

150 from Bay Area to rally in D.C. for legalization efforts

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.

Elaine, a San Francisco nanny who wouldn't give her last name because she lacks legal immigration status, plans to leave her 6-year-old son with her sister and fly to the nation's capital to join the call for comprehensive immigration reform on March 7.

She said she feels a sense of commonality with illegal immigrants from Mexico, who make up the majority of the estimated 12 million people living in the United States illegally.

"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 Washington.

"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 America, said Margaret McPeake, co-director of the Irish Studies Program at New College of California in San Francisco. Irish Americans have a sense of their deep roots in the United States, combined with a sympathy for the difficult economic and political realities in Ireland that spurred the last big wave of immigration in the 1980s, she said.

"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 San Francisco's Irish Immigration Pastoral Center, estimates that 50,000 of the country's 150,000 Irish-born residents are illegal, with many thousands of them in the Bay Area. Most of them entered the country on a legitimate student, work or tourist visa and stayed after it expired.

"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 U.S. resident so she can build a stable life in her adopted city without fear of being picked up by immigration authorities. She also wants the laws to change so she take her son back to his homeland so he can stay connected to his grandparents and his Irish heritage.

"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 United States.

"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."

Crossroads Festival

Immigration will be a topic of discussion at the Crossroads Irish-American Festival in San Francisco, March 8-17.

For more information on the festival, call (415) 437-3427.


Anonymous said...

"She said she feels a sense of commonality with illegal immigrants from Mexico, who make up the majority of the estimated 12 million people living in the United States illegally."

I'm sure you do feel commonality with 'em. You've all violated the immigration laws of this nation, and you all need to leave. I don't care if you're brown, white, Mexican, Irish or Chinese. All are criminals.

Anonymous said...

Please, who will do the jobs of 15million people when there gone. If they all spend 300$ a week thats billions of dollars spent every year.Now we have around 77 million people retiring over the next 20 years and you want to take 15 million out of the work force now so 92 million people gone from the work force .Thats a great plan i wonder why your not the house speaker with such great planing we would be a third world country within 30 years
The Cope
Philip Gallagher

Anonymous said...

The only thing the undocumented are guilty of is coming here like generations have before them. The thing that is different is that the immigration laws having been made severely restrictive since 1965. Unless you are native Indian and or maybe I will stretch a little and your ancestors arrived on Plymouth Rock, then you are an immigrant too. America is a melting pot. The Diversity Visa program distributes 50,000 visas annually. Ireland receives less than 200 as the lottery is based on country population. Approximately 12% of the US population claim Irish ancestry. You tell me what legal immigration opportunity is there with Ireland only getting 200 visas per year.

So if you feel people looking for an opportunity here are criminals, then why don't you volunteer to help build the 700 mile stretch of wall between Mexico and the U.S. and go to a diner that employs only legals (non criminals in your vocabulary). Good luck finding one.