By Ruth Morris
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
March 7, 2007
The immigration debate has swept through Mexican canteens, Argentine bakeries and Caribbean music shops in the United States. Now, it has a new home: the local Irish pub.Thousands of undocumented Irish immigrants, including many in Florida, are joining the drive to grant legal status to some 12 million immigrants residing illegally in the United States.
In their most vocal demonstration so far, some 6,000 supporters are expected to show up at a Washington, D.C., rally today organized by the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform. They'll sport "Legalize the Irish" T-shirts and cast the bitter and polarized immigration debate in shamrock green."Everyone reacts the same way. They don't even understand the Irish have a problem with immigration," said Lisa Handley, of Fort Lauderdale, the Lobby's Florida delegate.
"We're just a small part of the immigration wave," she said. But given the way so many Americans trace their roots back to Ireland, she added, "We're a very significant part."The Irish presence puts a new spin on a movement largely associated with Latin-American immigrants, and pulls enthusiasm from important political allies, even though only about 50,000 undocumented Irish immigrants live in the United States. A smaller rally last year drew Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., both presidential hopefuls. McCain plans to attend today's rally, along with U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Miami.
The Irish began arriving in the United States in the early 1800s, working on canals and railways and in Pennsylvania coal mines. Potato famines at home spurred further migrations, which in turn made the Irish one of the largest groups of immigrants in U.S. history.More recently, special programs and diversity initiatives gave the Irish a leg up in visa lotteries. Those programs ended in the 1990s.
The Bronx-based Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform calculates just 2,088 Irish received green cards in 2005 out of a total of more than 1.1 million people granted residency.
Under the current system, advocates insist, the Irish ancestors of Presidents Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy would not have been able to legally enter the United States.
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