Undocumented Irish want U.S. immigration change, too
Web Posted: 03/07/2007 12:01 AM CST
Jennifer A. Dlouhy
WASHINGTON — As many as 4,000 undocumented Irish workers and their supporters are converging on Congress today to demand a broad overhaul of U.S. immigration laws.
With a rally and meetings with lawmakers, members of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform will press for legislation that would give undocumented immigrants a chance to work legally in the United States and eventually become citizens.
The Irish lobbying campaign comes a week before St. Patrick's Day and on the eve of a congressional debate over immigration. The lobbyists wearing green-and-white t-shirts stamped with "Legalize the Irish" may catch lawmakers off guard.
Celine Kennelly, director of San Francisco's Irish Immigration Pastoral Center, said the Irish activists are a reminder that the immigration debate is multifaceted — and not just focused on Mexico and Latin America.
The Irish lobbyists put "another face on the whole debate that people don't realize" is there, said Kennelly, who made the trek from California for today's rally.
"It makes (people) stand up and think about the other communities" affected by immigration, Kennelly said. "And if it's an issue for the Irish, who else is this a problem for? Who else needs to be a part of the debate?"
There are at least 12 million undocumented immigrants now living within U.S. borders — and most of them come from Mexico and Central America. An estimated 50,000 are from Ireland.
Many came to America on student, work or tourist visas but stayed in the United States long after they expired.
Kelly Fincham, executive director of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, said many of the undocumented Irish are working and paying taxes in the hopes that they may some day get the chance to live in the U.S. legally.
"We have a much smaller population than other groups, but we have a population that has been coming in through the years who would love to adjust their status," Fincham said. "There's a presumption out there that somehow there's a legal way for Irish people to come into the United States, but we're as badly affected as anyone else" by limits on immigration.
Once in the United States, undocumented immigrants from Ireland and other European countries typically remain underground. Kennelly noted they generally don't risk returning to Ireland to care for sick relatives or attend family events because they fear they couldn't get another visa to enter the United States.
"I stood beside friends whose parents have died and they couldn't have traveled home for the funeral," Kennelly said.
Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and John McCain, R-Ariz., are expected to introduce sweeping immigration legislation in the next two weeks, and the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to consider their bill later this month.
Their measure is expected to:
Offer some kind of system for most undocumented immigrants to work legally in the United States after paying fines. Ultimately, many also would have a chance to apply for U.S. citizenship, after years of legal work, paying back taxes and learning English.
Create a new guest-worker program aimed at allowing foreigners to fill low-skill jobs that U.S. employers have trouble filling with Americans.
During a rally near the Capitol, the Irish lobbyists will hear from a star-studded lineup of senators and lawmakers, including Kennedy and Democratic presidential contenders Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.
For a link to this article on MySanAntonio.com, click HERE.