Irish lend their voices to immigration overhaul. Lawmakers join call for reform.
By Gerry Smith
Thursday, March 08, 2007
WASHINGTON — More than 1,000 undocumented Irish immigrants and their supporters rallied Wednesday for an overhaul of immigration law.
Crammed into a hotel ballroom and wearing green and white T-shirts reading "Legalize the Irish," participants waved American flags and sang Irish folk ballads between passionate speeches from Democratic senators.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., co-author of an immigration bill to be introduced next week, said one provision of the legislation would require immigrants to be proficient in English.
"And I think you can do that very well," Kennedy said.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., noted that the new Democrat-controlled Congress would be friendlier to immigrants, particularly in the House.
"Guess who is no longer chairman of the House Judiciary Committee?" Schumer said, referring to Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin.
Sensenbrenner was influential in passing a hard-line immigration bill in December 2005 that backed tough border security and opposed granting citizenship to illegal immigrants.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., also joined the rally to press for "comprehensive" reform that combines tough immigration law enforcement with a path to citizenship for most of the 12 million undocumented workers now living inside the U.S.
"We cannot just take half steps, and we certainly cannot give in to those who would undermine the rights of people" working in the shadows, Clinton said.
Only about 50,000 of the illegal immigrants in the United States are from Ireland, according to the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, which sponsored the rally.
Kennedy, a descendant of Irish immigrants, told the crowd that the Irish values of hard work, sacrifice and devotion to family and faith belonged in America.
"I can't wait for this battle! I can't wait for this fight! Are you going to be there with me?" Kennedy shouted, provoking loud cheers. Earlier Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., joined other lawmakers at a news conference billed as a kickoff for the broad immigration bill. No details of the measure were released.
Reid said that the Senate would vote on "comprehensive immigration reform" before the August recess.
Additional material from Washington Bureau reporter Eunice Moscoso and Hearst Newspapers.
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