2,500 Irish lobby Congress for right to stay in US
by Denis Staunton in Washington
More than 2,500 undocumented Irish immigrants and their supporters braved a snowstorm yesterday to rally in Washington in support of reforms that would allow them to stay in the US legally and eventually apply for citizenship.
Dressed in green and white T-shirts with the slogan "Legalise The Irish", the mostly young demonstrators from New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco and elsewhere spent the morning lobbying members of Congress in their Capitol Hill offices.
At the rally, which was organised by the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR), a succession of senators and congressmen, including Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton, spoke in support of immigration reform and urged the Irish lobbyists to carry on the fight.
"We are grateful to you because you are not only standing up for yourselves but for countless others who have no voice and cannot come here to Washington. You are making a strong statement about the importance of America remaining true to its values," Mrs Clinton said.
Democratic senator Edward Kennedy and Republican John McCain plan to introduce legislation in the next week that would allow most of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the US to remain in the country.
The Senate passed a similar Bill last year but it faced insurmountable opposition in the House of Representatives when Republicans controlled Congress. The new Democratic majority has given hope to immigration reform campaigners and president George Bush has promised to work with Congress to introduce comprehensive reform.
Among the most controversial issues is a proposal that undocumented immigrants seeking to legalise their status should first have to return home briefly. They would also have to pay a fine and prove that they can speak English.
Although most Democrats support immigration reform, the new Bill will need the support of some Republicans if it is to pass before the August recess. A delay beyond then could see legislation deferred until after the 2008 elections.
Mr Kennedy told the rally that he relished the battle to push immigration reform through Congress so that a Bill will reach Mr Bush's desk later this year. "This is basically an issue of defining our humanity, how we treat each other. I can't wait for this battle," he said.
New York senator Chuck Schumer thanked the crowd for "a great warm Irish welcome on a snowy Washington day" before shouting "Tiochfaidh Ár Lá".
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will lobby for Irish undocumented immigrants in the US next week when he meets Mr Bush and congressional leaders in Washington for St Patrick's Day celebrations.
Although the mood at the rally was upbeat and campaigners are more confident than ever of success, Mrs Clinton warned them not to underestimate the opposition.
© 2007 The Irish Times
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