MAYNOOTH - 8 March 2007
Fr Alan Hilliard, Director of the Irish Episcopal Commission of Emigrants (IECE), attended a rally in Washington DC yesterday, calling for immigration reform on behalf of the 'undocumented' Irish in the United States.
Speaking before the rally organised by the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR), Fr Alan Hilliard said: "Time is of the essence in relation to the effectiveness of this campaign. If a pathway to legalisation fails to appear this year, it will be hard to offer real hope to the many Irish who are currently stuck in a legal quandary in the US.
Today, many Irish are here on behalf of friends and relatives and they just want to make an honest, open contribution for the good of America - the place many now call home." Fr Hilliard said: "Keeping faith in the objectives of immigration reform is vital at this time. It is great to see so many here today speaking - not just for the Irish - but who are lending their voices to the many who seek an opportunity to contribute to this nation. When the of the Bishop of Derry and Chair of the IECE, Bishop Séamus Hegarty, visited Washington and other US cities in 2005, he expressed a concern that so few of the 'undocumented' had their voices heard. Today's rally is an example of people taking responsibility for their own futures, and while this has not been easy, it is both necessary and commendable."
Fr Hilliard continued: "The pastoral welfare of the 'undocumented' is to the forefront of our concern. The Irish Apostolate has coordinated 110 visits over the last year to various members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives. At times we have shared these visits with other Catholic and interfaith groups which support our stance regarding the pathway to legalisation. After this rally we will continue with these visits. We will keep up the pressure and talk, not only to those who support our stance, but also to those who may need some encouragement to support our stance.
"While the economic reality indicates that the United States needs migrant labour, as a society it must also effectively protect and provide for the safety of its people. This is also a priority for the people here today who, in many cases, are themselves parents. They too are looking for safety and security for the sake of both their children and of future generations."
One flaw of the immigration reform of the 1980s was a lack of clear communication of rights and this was coupled with the propagation of misinformation. Partly - perhaps due to living on the fringes of society - many were uncertain, nervous and were consequently afraid to come forward. Many immigrants did not fully understand what was available to them. However, on this occasion we will provide information to those in need so that they can make informed decisions. What must be avoided are 'enticements' and other so called 'quick-fix' solutions which will be advertised by some unscrupulous people whose motive is profit and whose style is to prey on the vulnerable. We are presently upgrading our Irish Apostolate website to enable browsers to access the legislative changes, if and when they happen, as they become available online."
Fr Hilliard said: "Yesterday, members of our Apostolate met with the Catholic Legal Immigration Network to discuss the implementation of whatever legislation is put in place. Despite the uncertainty, we have to live with the expectation that legislative change will happen and, please God, a pathway of hope will open up."
Fr Hilliard concluded: "I thank the ILIR for organising this event. I wish also to pay a special tribute to the staff of the Apostolate and Coalition centres around America. It is an honour to serve with you. I thank the Congressmen and politicians from Ireland who are so generous in their support of immigration reform. However, if I wish to particularly acknowledge one group here today it is you: you who have no legal status and yet have taken the risk to step out of the shadows."
The Irish Bishops' Conference established a dedicated service in 1957 the Irish Episcopal Commission for Emigrants (IECE) to help co-ordinate pastoral support for Irish emigrants in the UK. Based in Maynooth this outreach (Chaplaincies) service now extends to Germany, the USA (New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia); and Australia. The Irish Apostolate is the service provided by the Irish Bishop's Commission for Emigrants in the United States.
Please see the website of the Irish Apostolate: www.usairish.org
The Catholic Legal Immigration Network was established in 1988 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as an organization to support a rapidly growing network of community-based immigration programmes in the US.
Its mission is: "To enhance and expand delivery of legal services to indigent and low-income immigrants principally through diocesan immigration programs and to meet the immigration needs identified by theCatholic Church in the United States."
The objectives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' immigration reform campaign are:
- To educate the public, especially the Catholic community, including Catholic public officials, about church teaching on migration and immigrants;
- To create political will for positive immigration reform;
- To enact legislative and administrative reforms based on the principles in the pastoral letter Strangers no Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, which was jointly published with the Mexican Bishop's Conference in 2003;
- To organize Catholic networks to assist qualified immigrants in obtaining the benefits of the reforms.There are an estimated 50,000 'Undocumented' Irish immigrants living in the United States.
Source: Irish Catholic Media Office © Independent Catholic News 2007
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