from Boom times, crackdown slow emerald wave
By Kevin Cullen, Globe Staff March 18, 2007
In the 1980s and 1990s, some 70,000 Irish immigrants benefited from visa programs aimed specificially at them. Named for Brian Donnelly, the former congressman from Dorchester, and Bruce Morrisson, the former congressman from Connecticut, those programs eased the crunch on thousands of Irish people living mostly in the New York and Boston areas. But there has been no ready path to legal status since then, and now Irish immigration activists are joining with other immigrant groups supporting a bipartisan bill sponsored by US senators Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and John McCain of Arizona that would open the possibility of legalization.
Raymond L. Flynn, who was mayor of Boston during the mid-1980s, says the community's history of assimilation, and the role of Irish immigrants to US military service, should count for something in that debate. He considers the Irish, who encountered discrimination and animosity when they arrived in Boston in the 19th century, not only a success story, but also a cautionary tale for anyone who would dismiss any new immigrant group as being unable to assimilate.
"There's much more hardship in the Irish immigrant community than there was when I was mayor," Flynn says. "There's also less of a sense that this is an Irish town. And that's because that sense of the Irish community renewing itself, over and over again, is declining."
In scores of interviews with Irish Bostonians, that sense of decline comes through clearly. Especially those caught in the legalization vise are a disillusioned, frustrated lot, whose perceptions of America in general, and Boston in particular, have changed, even as their desire to live here has not.
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