Thursday, December 18, 2008

Saturday, December 13, 2008

McAleese makes plea for undocumented Irish in US

DENIS STAUNTON in San Francisco (The Irish Times, Sat Dec 13)

UNDOCUMENTED IRISH immigrants are "largely removed and marginalised" from positive developments in the relationship between Ireland and the United States, President Mary McAleese told an audience in San Francisco last night.

In a plea for greater understanding for their predicament, Mrs McAleese said it was important that efforts continue to reach an agreement to regularise the status of the undocumented.

"I am deeply conscious that there are many within the Irish community in this city who are caught in this situation. So many of the undocumented Irish have lived in the US for many years and, like generations of previous Irish emigrants, they work hard, raise families and make an important contribution to the economic and social life of their communities," she said. "And yet, they live in the shadows of society with fear and uncertainty as their constant companions. Most, we know, also suffer greatly from the pain of not being able to travel to and from Ireland because of the difficulties of re-entry."

Speaking at San Francisco's Irish Immigration and Pastoral Centre on the second day of a week-long visit to the US, Mrs McAleese said many undocumented Irish immigrants came to the US before the 9/11 attacks prompted tighter border restrictions.

"Meanwhile they got jobs, met partners, got married, raised families and put down roots in an adopted homeland that they had grown to love dearly," she said.

"Some very committed people have championed their cause and the Irish Government has used every possible opportunity to advocate on their behalf and will continue to do so. Efforts are also ongoing to reform our own wider migration arrangements with the United States in a way that complements the modern nature of our relationship."

Earlier yesterday, Mrs McAleese addressed a breakfast for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs hosted at Stanford University by Enterprise Ireland before inaugurating new GAA playing fields on Treasure Island. The President acknowledged that her message to American audiences has changed to take account of the economic difficulties faced by both Ireland and the US.

"We have come through a very difficult period and we're heading into a very difficult period. But we've also come out of an extraordinary time, a time when the whole of Irish fortunes were turned around, when we told a story about ourselves that we never thought possible," she said.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

More Immigration Losers

From The Wall Street Journal,
GOP hardliners need to face reality.

Virginia Republican Congressman Virgil Goode's narrow loss to Democrat Tom Perriello became official last week, and it caps another bad showing for immigration restrictionists. For the second straight election, incumbent Republicans who attempted to turn illegal immigration into a wedge issue fared poorly.

Anti-immigration hardliners Randy Graf, John Hostettler and J.D. Hayworth were among the Republicans who lost in 2006. Joining them this year were GOP Representatives Thelma Drake (Virginia), Tom Feeney (Florida), Ric Keller (Florida) and Robin Hayes (North Carolina) -- all Members of a House anti-immigration caucus that focuses on demonizing the undocumented.

According to a review of election results by America's Voice, an advocacy group, Republican restrictionists had especially weak showings in "battleground" races. "Nineteen of 21 winners advocated immigration policies beyond enforcement-only," says the report. "This includes 5 of 5 Senate races and 14 of 16 House races listed in the 'toss-up,' 'leans Republican,' or 'leans Democratic' categories of the Cook Political Report."

Mr. Goode, a 12-year incumbent, had made a name for himself in Congress as a seal-the-border advocate. Among other things, he has called for mass deportations and amending the Constitution to deny U.S. citizenship to children of illegal aliens.

Immigration wasn't a dominant issue this fall, and other factors contributed more to the GOP defeat. But the political reality is that Republicans who thought that channeling Lou Dobbs would save their seats will soon be ex-Members. Meanwhile, exit polls showed that the Republican share of the Hispanic vote fell to 31% this year from more than 40% in 2004. The demographic reality is that the GOP can't win national elections while losing such a large share of the fastest-growing ethnic minority in the country.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

ILIR quoted in New York magazine

The Executive Director of the ILIR was quoted in a lengthy piece in New York magazine this week. Kelly Fincham told the reporter that the undocumented Irish, along with all other undocumented immigrant groups, or "illegal aliens" as the know-nothings insist on calling them were hiding in plain sight.

“They live like ghost citizens,” says Kelly Fincham, executive director of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform. “They’re here, but they’re not here.”

A Cool Head on Immigration

The New York Times, December 1, 2008, Editorial

The word is that Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona is President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for homeland security secretary, which would make her the country’s top official handling immigration enforcement and border control.

Lucky country. Poor Arizona.

It would be a relief to see the job go to someone with a solid understanding of immigration and all its complexities and political traps. As governor of a border state, Ms. Napolitano knows the landscape intimately. She has a cool head and a proven willingness to pursue policies that conform to reality, rather than the other way around. For years, the country has stumbled in a state of immigration panic, using harsh tactics to create the illusion of control while rejecting comprehensive strategies that would attack the problem at its roots.

Getting comprehensive reform passed may be a difficult slog for the new administration. But it can move quickly to repair what has gone awry with the enforcement-only regime, starting with reining in state and local crackdowns. Ms. Napolitano would do the country a huge favor by taking a withering look at a fellow Arizonan, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has used the federal 287(g) program, which delegates immigration enforcement to the local police, to terrorize immigrants in Phoenix.

Ms. Napolitano is famously skeptical of the border fence, the Bush administration’s 700-mile, multibillion-dollar desert speed bump. The fence was never going to be the zip-lock seal its defenders clamored for, and is hardly worth the expense or environmental damage it has caused. Ms. Napolitano is well aware that the way to get tough at the border is to bring the visa supply in line with reality and give the Border Patrol the resources to catch drug smugglers and other bad people.

The federal crackdown on illegal hiring is a similar mishmash of hastily erected rules, including much-criticized systems of checking workers’ names against error-plagued databases. Ms. Napolitano would do well to ensure a slow, judicious rollout of electronic workplace enforcement, to avoid mistakes that could ruin the lives and livelihoods of thousands of legitimate employees.

The immigration detention system, which has been scarred by horrifying accounts of neglect and mistreatment, is in dire need of reform to ensure humane standards of medical care. And perhaps most important, the new administration should abolish the disastrous campaign of raids that have sundered families and spread terror through immigrant communities while making no meaningful difference in the undocumented population.

Ms. Napolitano’s departure would leave a void in Arizona, a caldron of resentments and fear and thick-headed immigration politics — a topic on which she has long been one of the cooler voices in the state. She says she likes to begin speeches before tough audiences with a rhetorical question: “Who here favors illegal immigration? Nobody? O.K., we’ve got a consensus on an issue that nobody is supposed to agree on. Let’s go from here.”

Yes, let’s.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Good news for undocumented Irish on way in Senate?

There may be some good news coming down the line for undocumented Irish immigrants or "illegal Irish," as some know-nothings say. Take a look at what Frank Sharry has to say this week.

From Frank Sharry's Blog on Huffington Post

In an interview published in Gannet News Service over the weekend, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid spoke candidly of plans to both address and pass immigration reform legislation in the 111th Congress.

Reid told Gannett News,

"On immigration, there's been an agreement between (President-elect Barack) Obama and (Arizona Republican Sen. John) McCain to move forward on that. ... We'll do that."

The Senate Majority Leader went on say that he did not expect "much of a fight at all," and expressed his optimism about passing common sense immigration reform in the near future.

Why is Reid so confident?

It may have something to do with the failure of anti-immigrant politics at the ballot-box, the growing power of the Latino and immigrant vote, or the realization that Americans are looking to those they elected to tackle and solve the toughest issues of our day.

What's more, in this new landscape, Senator Reid's comments join a distinctly bipartisan chorus. Chiming in are many Republican strategists and leaders speaking out against the GOP's restrictionist, enforcement-only approach to immigration. Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) recently said on NBC's Meet the Press:

"There were voices within our party that if they continue with that kind of anti-Hispanic rhetoric, we're going to be relegated to minority status."

In Newsweek, Karl Rove argued that, in order for the GOP to stay afloat, Republicans must truly support policy that "strengthens citizenship, grows our economy and keeps America a welcoming nation."

Given this new political reality, all signs point to a monumental shift in how immigration reform may be taken up and tackled in the 111th Congress.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hope for Reform

November 19, 2008

Editorial The Irish Voice

THE victories by President-elect Barack Obama in states such as Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Florida sent a strong signal about the extraordinary role that the Hispanic vote played in this election.

Put simply, without the 75% Hispanic vote support that he enjoyed Obama would have found it a lot harder to get to the White House.

At the same time the defeat of 10 of the 12 most anti-immigrant representatives in the House, as well the defeat of Republican Senator Elizabeth Dole, also notoriously anti-immigrant, in the Senate race in North Carolina sends its own signal.

What is says is that railing against the undocumented doesn’t sell well with the vast majority of Americans, and it downright damages the party that uses it continuously from its bag of dirty tricks.

The power of the Hispanic vote in this election is a powerful signal to the immigration lobby that real reform can be achieved in the life of the next Congress. After the bitter disappointment of the Bush years we are looking at a whole new beginning with Obama.

The president-elect has been a supporter of comprehensive reform and, no doubt, his extraordinary level of support in the Hispanic community will further nudge him in the direction of doing something decisive.

It is no certain thing, however, as we learned in the current administration with the failed effort to pass the Kennedy/McCain bill in this Congress.

Indeed, Hispanic leaders have already stated that they do not expect immediate action on the issue given the dangerous state of the economy and the two major separate wars that America is fighting.

However, immigration groups should be reluctant to allow too much time to pass before making their presence known. The reality is that the squeaky wheel gets the grease in Congress, and there is no time like the present to capitalize on the incredible support Obama got from Hispanic voters.

Of course the usual clowns such as Lou Dobbs and many legislators will begin their catch cries soon after any campaign is launched. But if this election showed anything it is that Americans are ready for tough, fair solutions to difficult problems and are desperately tired of the business as usual atmosphere in Congress.

The anti-immigrant sentiment whipped up by people such as Dobbs and others was evident in the tragic death of a young Ecuadorian immigrant in Patchogue, Long Island last week when a gang of high schoolers went on a “Mexican” hunting expedition and stabbed him to death.

It is hardly coincidental that the Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, a Democrat, has been among the most vituperative and hate-filled spokesmen against immigrants. His bile certainly bore evil fruit on this occasion.

All of which points to the need to settle on a sensible immigration policy that solves the issue once and for all.

No one is calling for open borders, and everyone wishes that laws can be enforced, but there is no doubt that some kind of program with a path to citizenship for the undocumented must be instituted. No less a person than Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made the same point in The New York Times Magazine last Sunday.

With Obama as president that day is certainly nearer, but it cannot come soon enough for the thousands of Irish and other undocumented who live in dread every day. Let us hope the new president sets a process in motion that can end this enduring nightmare for everyone.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Grace and elegance at the end of the road

Sen. Barack Obama's soaring acceptance speech Tuesday evening was matched by Sen. John McCain's elegant and gracious concession speech. We wish Senator McCain well, he has been a huge supporter of immigration reform and we hope to see him revisit this issue in the not-too-distant future.

A new era in U.S. politics

And maybe a glimmer of hope for us? Polling data shows that Hispanics turned away from the Republican party in droves, punishing Sen. John McCain for his party's attitude toward immigration. Maybe now there is a REAL chance for comprehensive immigration reform? Cynics might say that the Democrats won't risk touching immigration in the first term but Democrats also can't risk losing the Hispanic vote. See today's New York Times (quoted below)
Mr. Obama also did strikingly well among Hispanic voters, beating Mr. McCain did far less better among those voters than Mr. Bush did in 2004, suggesting the damage the Republican Party has suffered among those voters over four years in which Republicans have been at the forefront on the effort to crack down on illegal immigrants.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Rise in number of Irish deported from US

Conn Corrigan, The Irish Times

Tue, Nov 04, 2008

INCREASING NUMBERS of Irish people are being sent home from the United States due to a big rise in overall deportations.

In the New York consular area, 27 Irish people have been deported so far this year, compared to 12 for the whole of 2006. The area comprises New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, and seven other states in the east and southeast of the US.

The total number of deportations of Irish people from the US is also up: in 2006, 41 were deported; in 2007, 53; and so far this year, 58 have been expelled for immigration violations, figures from the Irish consulates reveal.

The trend reflects an increase in deportations across the US. Figures from US immigration and customs enforcement, a branch of the department of homeland security, show a dramatic rise in deportations since 2001. That year there were 116,460 "removals". By October of this year, there were 349,041, an increase of more than 20 per cent from 2007.

Donald Kerwin, vice-president of programmes for the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank that studies immigration, said a variety of factors had "conspired to greatly increase the numbers of deportations".

Mr Kerwin cited greater enforcement measures, more co-ordination between the various government agencies involved in immigration, and a very contentious public debate on immigration policy, as being particularly important.

Orla Kelleher, executive director of the Aisling Irish Community Centre, which works with Irish immigrants in New York, said changes in ID requirements for internal flights meant some undocumented Irish were being picked up by authorities at airports.

Kelly Fincham, executive director of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, pointed out that prior to changes made after the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York, undocumented Irish were able to apply for a driver's licence. Now, only those with a valid social security number can do so.

Ms Fincham said this meant that undocumented Irish who were caught up in routine traffic stops and were asked for ID were forced to use their passports for identification, which would show they were in the country illegally.

Even though a violation of immigration laws is a civil rather than a criminal offence, those who await deportation are often held with common criminals. The standard waiting time in the New York consular area is four to six weeks.

In the Boston area, according to Fr John McCarthy of the Irish Pastoral Centre in that city, the detention period is usually about six weeks. Fr McCarthy said that in one case earlier this year, two men from Co Cork were detained for 12 weeks prior to their deportation.

"Most of these people who have been detained would never have been in jail before," said Sheila Gleeson, executive director of the Coalition of Irish Immigration Centres. "They are mostly young guys in their 20s who've never been in trouble."

Niall O'Dowd, chairman of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, said the rise in numbers of Irish deportations underscored the urgency of immigration reform in the US. "I see a very different emphasis by Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Foreign Minister Micheál Martin on this issue," Mr O'Dowd added. They were "fully committed to resolving it", he said.

© 2008 The Irish Times

Friday, October 31, 2008

Reform Still on the Map

October 30, 2008

Periscope by Niall O'Dowd, Irish Voice

THERE were over 100 present at the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR) meeting in the Bronx on Tuesday evening, October 21. It was a fine crowd considering the midweek night, and the level of interest in immigration reform is still clearly very high in the community. More...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Immigration cools as campaign issue

By JULIA PRESTON From The New York Times

On the stump, Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain rarely talk about immigration, and it was never raised in their three debates.

Yet as this thorny issue has receded from the presidential campaign, the two candidates continue to refine their approach to it — especially in regards to illegal immigration, the most politically sensitive piece of the equation.

Mr. Obama, the Democratic nominee, has hardened his tone on how to deal with illegal immigrants, while Mr. McCain, the Republican nominee, has made immigration enforcement a priority, a position in line with the Bush administration’s. Both candidates are responding to the anger many Americans feel about uncontrolled illegal immigration, including working-class voters whom Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama are trying to attract in the final days of the campaign.

Because of persisting political rifts and a crush of priorities related to reviving the economy and unwinding the Iraq war, advisers to the campaigns say it is increasingly unlikely that either candidate would propose to Congress an overhaul of the immigration system during the first year in office, something both Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama had pledged to do.

On the assumption that immigration legislation “is not likely to be the first thing out of the box” for the new president, Doris Meissner, who was commissioner of the immigration service under President Bill Clinton, said she was working with a bipartisan group of experts to identify changes that the new president could make without Congress.

“The reforms we need to put in place are so sweeping and the political environment is so hostile to consensus, I think we will be in a phase of longer-term building of public understanding,” said Ms. Meissner, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, a research group in Washington.

Both Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain continue to support legislation that would include a path to legal status for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the country.

As a result, groups that oppose legal status for illegal immigrants, who mobilized a wildfire movement of largely Republican voters against a comprehensive immigration bill last year, are sitting out the presidential race. Instead, they are focusing on Senate and House races, where they hope to stop the Democrats from winning large majorities.

“We’re going to have an incredibly bad White House, so we’re in for some tough defensive battles,” said Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, which favors reduced immigration. “We have to make sure we’ve got at least 41 senators so we can block any Obama or McCain amnesty.”

Seeking to broaden support for legalization, Mr. Obama embraces new law-and-order language adopted in the Democratic Party platform at the convention. Although Americans are “welcoming and generous,” the platform states, “those who enter our country’s borders illegally, and those who employ them, disrespect the rule of law.” Instead of the Democrats’ emphasis, as recently as last year, on integrating illegal immigrants into society, the platform says, “We must require them to come out of the shadows and get right with the law.”

Heather Higginbottom, the Obama campaign’s director for policy, said Mr. Obama had not altered his basic views. If elected, Mr. Obama would insist that illegal immigrants pay back taxes and fines, learn English and go to the back of the immigration line to become legal.

For Mr. McCain, there has been a sharper turn from the past. He was unable to stop the Republican Party from adopting a platform at the September convention that directly rejected his support for legalization. “We oppose amnesty,” the platform states, describing “the American people’s rejection of en masse legalizations” as “especially appropriate.”

Some Republicans have not forgiven Mr. McCain for joining Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, to write a bill, known as comprehensive immigration reform, which passed the Senate in 2006. Mr. McCain stayed on the sidelines last year as a version of that bill stalled in Congress. Then, under pressure from rivals in the Republican primaries, Mr. McCain said early this year that he would not vote for that bill if it came up again.

He has supported the Bush administration’s aggressive enforcement campaign against illegal immigration, calling it a necessary first step to persuading Americans to accept any legalization program. In recent weeks his campaign has avoided the term “path to citizenship” to describe the option Mr. McCain would offer illegal immigrants, saying only that he would deal with them in a humane way.

The McCain campaign is hoping that his differences with the Republican Party will help to reinforce his image as a maverick, especially among Hispanic voters. One of his television advertisements in Spanish shows Mr. McCain speaking of illegal immigrants as “God’s children,” as Representative Tom Tancredo of Colorado, the Republicans’ most outspoken foe of illegal immigrants, looks on, scowling.

“Senator McCain risked his own political career to get a bill in the Senate that would benefit Latinos,” said César Martínez, a producer of the McCain advertisements in Spanish.

Obama supporters say they do not mind his campaign’s silences, since they are confident he remains committed to an overhaul including legalization, and debate has often proved polarizing.

“We feel very comfortable with where he stands,” said Eliseo Medina, international executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union, who has been barnstorming for Mr. Obama. “We do not have to have it repeated to us over and over again.”

Ms. Higginbottom, the Obama policy adviser, acknowledged that high unemployment in coming months could make an immigration overhaul a harder sell but said Mr. Obama would argue that American workers would benefit if millions of unauthorized immigrant workers, currently vulnerable to exploitation, gained their labor rights.

While the candidates have skirted the immigration issue in speeches and town-hall-style- meetings, they are clashing head on over it in the Spanish language media, in negative advertisements that have played heavily in swing states with growing numbers of Hispanic voters like Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico.

In those advertisements, Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama each tries to show that the other was less consistent in supporting legislation to change the system, including provisions to legalize illegal immigrants.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Update on NY meeting

The meetings took place in NY and San Francisco last night and helped clear up a lot of confusion about the different issues. We are currently looking at holding a meeting in Boston and will post the information here when a date/venue is decided. For those who were unable to attend last night's meetings, please email for details.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Young Irish drifting back to US

By CONN CORRIGAN The Irish Times, Sat, Oct 18, 2008

THE US MAY be in the throes of a financial crisis, but business for Brendan Stapleton, the owner of Prime Cuts, a distinctly Irish butcher's in Woodlawn, the Bronx, is going well. "It hasn't been this good in years," he says. "A lot of old customers who had returned to Ireland are back, and there are a lot of young people around, too."

Stapleton says he is unsure of the visa status of his young Irish customers. "But ordinarily, at this time of year, they'd be gone by now."

Rory Dolan, the owner of a bar of the same name close by at McLean Avenue in Yonkers, says business has also been good for him recently. "I've definitely noticed more young Irish about the place. When you drive down the street, you see them - a lot of them wearing the county colours," says Dolan, who originally comes from Killeshandra, Co Cavan, but who has lost none of his accent.

Lisa Riordan, the 27-year-old manager of the Irish Coffee Shop, also on McLean Avenue, has noticed that there aren't nearly as many notices offering accommodation in the shop as there were this time last year, after the J-1 students had departed. Perhaps an indication, she says, that the demand for accommodation has gone up.

Not so long ago, locals in Woodlawn, one of the few places in New York where Heinz beans are displayed prominently in the convenience stores, were bemoaning the Irish exodus.

In 2005, Brendan Stapleton told the Los Angeles Times: "I'm thinking of getting out myself. I can't see a future here if the young people are gone." Today, however, because of the downturn in the economy at home, it appears that some young Irish are coming back. And according to Niall O'Dowd, chairman of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR), many are coming out undocumented.

Speaking last week at the Blasket Island Foundation seminar on emigration, O'Dowd said: "The Irish immigrant centres all over the US are reporting a significant surge . . . and the anecdotal evidence in Irish neighbourhoods is backing that up. We are particularly seeing the traditional type of Irish emigrant - construction workers, waitresses - who are the first to experience the effects of the Irish economic downturn. We already have tens of thousands of undocumented whom we are seeking to help."

O'Dowd's comments resonate with some of the immigration centres, certainly in New York, although whether the surge is "significant" or not is debatable. Part of the problem in trying to move beyond anecdotal evidence is that quantifying the undocumented is notoriously difficult. "It's not as if they're lining up on street corners waiting to be counted," says Ciarán Staunton, ILIR vice-chairman.

Siobhán Dennehy, executive director of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, which has offices in Woodlawn and in Woodside, Queens, agrees that the numbers of undocumented coming out of necessity, rather than choice, is increasing. "It's definitely there," she said. "But we are not seeing a huge influx - it's certainly not to the same level as it was in the 1980s.

"The flow of immigration has changed dramatically over the past year," says Orla Kelleher, director of the Aisling Center, also in Woodlawn. "Over the past three months, we've witnessed the number of new emigrants coming into the centre double by comparison with this time last year when we started to survey new arrivals. Most are undocumented."

The Irish immigration centre in San Francisco has said there is a "definite increase" in the numbers of recent arrivals, using its services, while immigration centres in the rest of the US say that they are also seeing more undocumented Irish, although not to the same extent as in New York and San Francisco.

The Irish immigration centres in Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston, for example, all report an increase. As Thomas Keown, spokesman for the Irish Immigration Center in Boston puts it: "What we are seeing is not so much a swirling river, but a steady trickle."

ON A SUNNY WEDNESDAY afternoon this week, Paul (22), and Micheál (23) went to O'Neill's bar in Manhattan in search of a job. The two, who declined to give their full names, are over on a holiday visa, and arrived in New York on Monday. Paul recently completed a degree in business management. He "applied for every job" he could in Ireland, doing 11 interviews. "It was impossible," he said, with a strong Cavan accent. "I thought it high time to get out. It was just depressing living at home, with no work."

Micheál worked as a manager in a Drogheda hotel until it went into liquidation. He'd prefer to be working back in Ireland, where he was "on a very good wage". "I'm still young," he says. "I can work here for a year hopefully, and see out the downturn."

They had both heard the deportation horror stories. "We know not to get involved with the police," Paul said, adding that although they were both big drinkers, they knew they had "better be on their best behaviour".

Some undocumented had been working in the US, then went back to Ireland when the economy was doing well, before returning to the US. Bríd (29), from Glasnevin, came out to work in public relations in New York in 2000. She returned home in 2003, but found it hard to readjust to life in Ireland. "I felt a stranger in my own country," she says.

Despite the booming economy, after eight months looking for work, she returned to New York - this time undocumented - and found a job almost immediately. "What really bothered me was not being self-sufficient - I was on the dole and living with my parents. I just have a better standard of living here."

One of the obvious difficulties in coming to the US is that jobs are not as plentiful as they once were. A report out this week, for example, from New York Building Congress, a construction trade association, estimates that the numbers of construction jobs will fall 23 percentage points by 2010.

Orla Kelleher, however, remains optimistic. "In New York, there's always a job to be found if you look hard enough."

But not all parts of New York are seeing a resurgent Irish presence. At Aqueduct North, a Woodlawn bar that could have been teleported from a small Leitrim village, some had their doubts. Pat Gogan, a carpenter originally from Duleek, Co Meath, said that his union, which has traditionally been Irish- dominated, hadn't heard of any young Irish carpenters in search of work around the city. Dermot Coakley, originally from Ringaskiddy, Co Cork, the owner of a scaffolding firm, wasn't aware of Irish looking for work either. The two, who both live in Woodlawn, questioned whether there was indeed more young Irish people in this part of the Bronx, the last remaining Irish enclave in New York City.

The evidence from the GAA - a good barometer of youthful Irish presence - is inconclusive. John Larkin, the vice-president of the GAA of Greater New York, said that he wouldn't know until the season started again in spring whether many of the players who came over in the summer, a lot of whom were J-1 students, would still be around.

REGARDLESS OF THE EXTENT OF THE recent numbers of undocumented Irish who have come over, those who are there face considerable challenges. Some young Irish workers, however, feel that they have no choice. Gerald (20), from Co Monaghan, an apprentice plumber, was unemployed in Ireland for nine months prior to coming out to New York in April, "to test the water". After two weeks, he found a job. "I was getting fed up at home, lying about the place," he says. "I got work here and said to myself, 'What would I have to come home to?'"

© 2008 The Irish Times

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Erin Go Bust - OpEd in The New York Times

Erin Go Bust


IN the ravening years of the Celtic Tiger we had a dinner-party competition to define the figure most representative of the suddenly prosperous Ireland we so bafflingly found ourselves in. Someone came up with “a non-tax-paying businessman’s trophy wife.” This seemed right, and as time went on we added more and more details; at last count we had arrived at “a non-tax-paying businessman’s trophy wife driving her 14-year-old daughter to her drug rehabilitation session in an S.U.V. at 60 miles an hour down a bus lane while speaking on her cellphone, smoking a cigarette and making a rude gesture at a passing cyclist.” Over the past couple of weeks, however, the game has lost its savor. As one dinner guest murmured, “That poor little girl.”

The old saw “safe as houses” no longer cuts. And money in the bank is no longer “money in the bank.” We did not think the system could fail, but late last month government officials, in a dawn announcement, told us they had been compelled to give a 400-billion-euro guarantee to the banks, which were running out of money. It has been estimated that if the banks have to call in that guarantee, it will bankrupt the country for the next 37 years. And it will get worse.

In Ireland we live in a 30-year time warp. What for most of the rest of the Western world was “the ’60s” did not arrive for us until the 1990s. Indeed, the start of our Age of Aquarius can be dated to that week in the spring of 1992 when the news broke in Ireland that a prominent and popular churchman, Bishop Eamonn Casey, had carried on a long affair with an Irish-American woman, and that he had a 17-year-old son by her. It was the first of a series of religio-sexual scandals to be exposed here, each one worse than its predecessor.

The bishop had been a pillar both of church and state — he was a ubiquitous presence during Pope John Paul’s visit to Ireland in 1979, but he had also done much to highlight the plight of the urban homeless — and his downfall should have been a disorienting shock to a country that was proud of being 95 percent Catholic. However, all we knew was that the church’s centuries-long stranglehold upon our necks had suddenly been loosened. Freed, we did what all free men like best to do: we started making money, and spending it. The ’90s and the first half of the noughties were our coming-of-age party. Oh, how we roistered.

And now, as Nancy Pelosi observed, the party is over. That “poor little girl” will be far more emblematic of the coming years than her appalling mother was of the past decade and a half.

These are strange days in Ireland, though for once no stranger, it seems, than they are anywhere else in the world. Those of us old enough to have lived through it are reminded of the Cuban missile crisis: that nightmarish sense of being suspended somehow in midair, looking down upon ourselves and our poor, fragile world in wonderment and slow terror. Can this really be happening? Can all that wealth really have vanished so quickly, so comprehensively?

And yet there is, too, a curious trace of wistfulness in the air. We seem to be asking if it was really so bad in those days before Bishop Casey liberated us. Were we, if not happier, then at least more content, when we were poor? Did we not behave more courteously toward each other — did we not more readily forgive each other and ourselves for our failings? Shall we not perhaps regain something of the “real” Ireland when the suddenly toothless tiger is dead and buried? As our mothers used to say to us children when we had lost something, “You weren’t meant to have it.” Grim comfort.

One feels most sympathy for the young, who have known only tigerish days. How will they cope with what now seems certain to come? Again the dole queues, the mass emigration, the grind and grayness of life lived from hand to mouth. Poor little girls, poor little boys.

John Banville is the author of the novels “Eclipse,” “The Untouchable,” “The Sea” and “The Book of Evidence.”

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Irish illegals issue more urgent than ever - O'Dowd

(From the Irish Times, October 11, 2008) DEAGLAN DE BREADUN, Political Correspondent

SIGNIFICANT ILLEGAL immigration of Irish people to the US has begun again, making it even more critical that a long-term solution be found to the problem, founder-member of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform Niall O'Dowd said last night.

Speaking in Dún Chaoin, Co Kerry, at the opening of the Blasket Island Foundation seminar on emigration, he said: "The Irish immigrant centres all over the US are reporting a significant surge . . . and the anecdotal evidence in Irish neighbourhoods is backing that up. We are particularly seeing the traditional type of Irish emigrant - construction workers, waitresses - who are the first to experience the effects of the Irish economic downturn.

"We already have tens of thousands of undocumented whom we are seeking to help," he added.

Mr O'Dowd said immigration reform was a divisive issue and had taken a back seat in the US election. "Given the current economic emergency it is hard to see McCain or Obama giving the issue of immigration reform any major priority if elected," he said.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

245i - Some resources and answers

There have been a couple of questions about 245i recently. In brief, 245i was a section in the immigration law which allowed people (other than those in the spouse category) to adjust their status to a new immigration visa while in the U.S. This meant that people were no longer subject to the three or 10-year re-entry bars. Unfortunately, as we all know, there are no real categories for an Irish person to adjust to. For 245i to be truly effective, we would need a new visa category which people could apply for. If you would like more information, please see this FAQ from the USCIS. If you are in the New York area, please come to the meeting on Oct. 21

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

ILIR meeting in Yonkers - Update

I encourage everyone who has posted a comment to the blog in recent weeks to attend the ILIR meeting in the Heritage in Yonkers. If you have questions about the ILIR's proposals going forward, this will be the forum to address that.

Since its inception, the ILIR's main focus has been the undocumented Irish in the U.S. AND a new legal pathway to the U.S. for new Irish immigrants.

The "J" Visa does not address either of those issues. It is a short-term working holiday visa for recent Irish graduates similar to other arrangements in place between Ireland, the U.S., New Zealand and Australia. It IS NOT an immigration visa.

If you want to learn more about what the ILIR is doing, please try and attend the Oct. 21 meeting.

Kelly Fincham
Executive Director, ILIR

Monday, October 06, 2008

ILIR Immigration Information Meeting Oct 21

In light of the recent new developments, the ILIR will be hosting an immigration information meeting downstairs at the Heritage in New York on Tuesday Oct 21. Please email us for more details. There will be a Q&A with the ILIR (Niall O'Dowd, Ciaran Staunton and Kelly Fincham) and the Consul General Niall Burgess will also attend to answer questions and any concerns.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Fall 2008 Update - "J" Visas and DV Lottery

J Visa Program: The Irish Government has signed a new deal with the U.S. Government providing for 20,000 12-month working-holiday visas for Irish people in the U.S. In addition, the new visas give 5,000 Americans the ability to live and work in Ireland for a maximum of 12 months. For more information, please visit the DFA website. The new visas do not apply to the undocumented Irish in America. ILIR chairman Niall O'Dowd has welcomed the arrangement as "it points the way forward to deal with the other major issues."

DV Lottery: The DV program starts tomorrow. Only 132 Irish applicants were chosen last year, but this is one of the few mechanisms for Irish people to apply for a green card. The program is free (if a website asks you for money it is not the official website.) Intending applicants should submit their personal information only on the official website which will be live from noon on October 2 to noon on December 1, 2008.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ireland and U.S launch working-holiday visa

The Irish Government has announced a new deal with the U.S. whereby up to 20,000 students will be able to come to the U.S for a 12-month working holiday. The visas will not be available to undocumented Irish already in the U.S. Read the official press release here

Micheal Martin signs new visa deal

The Irish Govt has signed a new visa deal which will give college grads the chance to live and work in the US for up to 12 months. More here from The Irish Times

ILIR meets with Candidate Sen. John McCain

ILIR vice-chairman Ciaran Staunton met with Presidential Candidate Sen. John McCain at an Irish American Town Hall in Pennsylvania this week. Sen. McCain told Ciaran that he will address comprehensive immigration reform in his first term if elected.

Ciaran Staunton Discusses Student Visa on RTE 1

The vice-chairman of the ILIR was on RTE's News at One today discussing his meeting this week with presidential candidate Sen. John McCain. Sen. McCain told Ciaran that he would address comprehensive immigration reform in his first term if he was elected.

He also spoke about what he knows about the new student visas. You can hear the interview here. Also, we will be posting information on the new student visas when it becomes available. As Ciaran points out though, they will not cover the undocumented.

Monday, September 22, 2008

McCain Pledges Immigration Reform at Irish Event

Presidential candidate Senator John McCain today pledged to create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Senator McCain was speaking at an Irish Town Hall in Scranton, Pennsylvania. His remarks drew wide applause from the audience.

News stories about working holiday visas-

There have been reports in Ireland of a new 12-month working visa which would be available to Irish people coming to the U.S. on working holidays, similar to the agreement between Ireland and Australia and the U.S. with Australia and New Zealand. This visa is not intended to be a replacement for any work being done by the ILIR. We will post more information on these visas, as and when that becomes available from the Irish Government. However, this 12-month working holiday visa is not our focus as it is not the long-term solution we are pursuing. In the meantime, if the news reports are correct, it IS a step in the right direction as it demonstrates the new Irish administration's commitment to restoring Irish American ties.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Irish Times weighs in on US election

Would an Obama presidency be best for Ireland?

Kate Fitzgerald
argues 'yes', Obama would benefit Ireland by reviving the economy, remaining engaged with Northern Ireland and favouring diplomacy over aggression, while Grant Lally says 'no', Barack Obama's suggestion that there might be no need for a US special envoy to Northern Ireland shows his naivety and lack of experience.

Familes on move from Ireland

The Irish Independent has been following the continuing brain drain from Ireland. A story this week shows that the rate of emigration is at its highest for 20 years. The story does not say whether some of the outflow includes immigrant workers to Ireland but still, the numbers do show that Irish people are on the move again. In particular, Irish construction workers are being wooed in Canada and Australia.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Obama Reaches Out To Irish America

At last! Someone in Obama's campaign (or maybe it was the senator himself?) has reached out to the Irish American community. The Irish Voice, says that Obama has picked an "A Team" of Irish American experts to do just that.

Obama had foolishly left that role to Ms Trina Vargo who heads up the US-Ireland Alliance. That was a ridiculously bad move for Obama given that one of Vargo's first efforts included a statement suggesting that an Obama administration would abolish the post of US special envoy to the North of Ireland.

The statement caused uproar in the Irish American community which worked so hard to secure the posting, a role which has helped maintain the fragile peace in the North. It also pried open a doorway for Senator John McCain to take advantage of the Irish American vote.

Now, the "A Team" includes such stalwart Irish Americans as Senators George Mitchell (retired, Maine), Chris Dodd (Connecticut), Edward Kennedy (Massachusetts) and Pat Leahy (Vermont), Governor Martin O’Malley of Maryland and Congressmen Joe Crowley (New York) and Richard Neal (Massachusetts).

Where does this all leave Ms Vargo? We fervently hope she is removed from any position where she has the power to influence Irish American policy.
Those of us who toil in the world of immigration reform are well aware of Ms Vargo's contempt for the Irish - despite the fact that her work is funded by the Irish taxpayer

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Candidates and immigration

The New York Times has created a handy side-by-side chart of how the two presidential candidates stand on immigration. Clearly, while we think we know where McCain stands after hosting him at several ILIR events, we have huge concerns about Barack Obama purely because of the involvement of Trina Vargo in his campaign.

Ms Vargo seems to understand the ordinary Irish people as much as Marie Antoinette understood the ordinary French. "Let them eat cake," and all that. In her haste to dissasociate herself from the un-hip, un-wealthy and un-popular undocumented Irish immigrants, Ms Vargo seems to have fallen hard for the overblown myth of the Celtic Tiger. It must be a bit hard to see the ordinary Irish struggling with balloon mortgages, unemployment and lousy health care when you're quaffing cocktails at Ireland's ultra-exclusive Ryder Club.

Anyway, you can see the chart for yourself here.

Unemployment Surge In Ireland

RTE is reporting today "shock" figures (no shock to those of us counting the new arrivals in NY, Boston, Philly and SF) which show unemployment in Ireland at 6.1pc. What's more, the reporter says the figure is expected to jump to 8pc by the end of the year.
"Men accounted for 73% of the increase over the past 12 months, reflecting the impact of the very sharp downturn in the construction industry."
The numbers are even more startling given that unemployment rarely rises in August because more people are working in seasonal (or summer) employment.

And where oh where does Ireland Inc think the laid-off construction workers are going to go?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Democrats see immigration as key voting issue

And they're off! The Democrat convention kicks off today in Colorado, and as CNN says, there is some serious selling to be done there. Mostly selling Obama to the American voters.

However, they are also using immigration reform to do a strong sell to Hispanic voters who could hold the balance of power in swing states.

The Hill newspaper says that Democratic candidates are promising to address immigration reform in the next Congress, when they expect to hold bigger majorities in the House and Senate and perhaps control the White House.

Exit polls from 2006 showed that Hispanics made up about 30 percent of voters in New Mexico, 13 percent of voters in Nevada, 12 percent in Arizona, and 11 percent in Florida.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

GAA players NY-bound despite lack of visas

Interesting piece by David McWilliams in the Irish Independent yesterday. McWilliams has devised what he calls a GAA club transfer index which shows the following:

In January, not one club player transferred to a club outside Ireland. This month, over one third of all transfers involved lads leaving the country and signing up for clubs in New York and London.
McWilliams reckons that this is the thin end of the wedge as young Irish men get back on the emigration trail. Well, all he needed to do was call the Aisling Center in New York to find that out. However, at the very least, McWilliams has started some realistic debate. There is an urgent need for a long-term and short-term solution for Irish immigrants in the US. And he has also shown Ireland needs an "ordinary" visa; one that will give the carpenter, nanny and office worker the same kind of opportunities as the guy with the PhD.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

FG's McHugh set for Democratic Convention

Seems that FG TD Joe McHugh is going to Colorado to lobby presidential hopeful Barack Obama on the immigration issue. We're not sure how successful this will be given that Trina Vargo's name is increasingly being bandied about as Obama's Irish liasion.

If Obama wants to reach out to the Irish how come he's not talking to the people behind the Irish American media? There has been no reach out to the publishers of the Irish Echo, Irish America magazine, or Irish Voice. A source from his campaign said he would bypass the Irish American media in favor of appealing to the Irish through their faith.

Far be it from us to point out that the last president to win the Irish vote by appealing to their religion was Ronald Reagan.

Monday, August 18, 2008

It's the economy, stupid

A lot pf people have been on to me over the weekend over the piece posted last week after I got back from Ireland.
Seems there's a growing awareness in Ireland that there are hard times ahead and this is filtering out back here.
One woman was telling me that her family have decided to come out en masse for Christmas this year. She's been here for 14 years and has missed the past 13 family Christmases at home.
She said she was ready to move home earlier this year but decided to hold on until after the elections here.
Now she says that people back home are advising her to stay put because "you won't get any work back here."
"What's my choice now?" she said. "Stick it out here - where I have a good economic future if nothing else - or move home to a very uncertain economic future?"
It's amazing how much the undocumented Irish immigrants - as well as every other immigrant group - are contributing to the economy here. Pity Congress can't start looking at it that way.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Ireland and America - Time to start talking

There's a lot of disquiet in the Irish American community over Obama's failure to reach out to Irish America. Great piece by Tom Hayden in the Huffington Post this week which we have posted below. Given the economic upheaval in Ireland, now would be the time for an Irish American initiative which will bring both countries closer together. As others have often noted; Irish people are closer to those in Britain, Australia and the US. Unfortunately for those of us concerned with Irish American ties, it's simple for an Irish person to move to Britain or Australia. It's almost impossible for an Irish person to move here - or indeed, for an American with Irish ties to move to Ireland.

Back from Ireland

It's nice to know so many people actually read the blog! There have been tons of emails complaining about the shortage of postings over the past few weeks. They don't call August the "silly season" for nothing you know!

Anyway, I was in Ireland for a few weeks and the outlook is pretty grim there (and that's not including the incessant rain). The father of a friend of mine had to deplete his savings to pay for an operation in a private hospital. He's 89 and he was looking at a 12-month waiting list for a public bed. Doesn't matter that he's worked in Ireland his whole life and paid hundreds of thousands of euro in taxes. Back to the end of the line for him.

Jobs-wise, the bottom has fallen out of the market. People are being asked to take pay cuts, raises have been frozen, interest rates are going up, and they're even talking about bringing back college fees. You know things are bad when they go after the easy targets.

O'Bama and Irish America

From the Huffington Post
By Tom Hayden

Barack Obama needs the huge Irish-American vote in closely-fought Pennsylvania battlegrounds like Pittsburgh and the Philadelphia suburbs. There are similar pockets of Irish American swing voters in other key states. But this Irish dimension is so far being lost or downplayed in the prevailing political discourse about whiteness or Catholicism, and Obama himself has stumbled in his outreach efforts.

Interviews with journalists, political leaders and activists in Belfast this week - including some whose publications are widely read in Pennsylvania - revealed widespread interest in Obama's candidacy but also concerns about his approach to white ethnics like the Irish.

For example, Hillary Clinton was "treated like a queen" by Irish throngs during Pittsburg's St. Patrick's Day parade, according to Larry Kirwan, while Obama went missing. In his fabled Berlin speech in July, Obama declared that the walls between Catholics and Protestants had come down in Northern Ireland, when in fact the barriers separating communities have increased since the Good Friday Agreement. Obama's top adviser on Northern Ireland, Trina Vargo, recently left the campaign after being involved in sharp public disputes with the Irish immigration lobby in Washington.

Vargo, a former adviser to Sen. Edward Kennedy, has been replaced in the Obama campaign by Carol Wheeler, whose background includes involvement in children's charities. Wheeler denies this account, saying she is an "addition", not a replacement, and is now the "voluntary coordinator for Irish American outreach" and works with the campaign staffer who does "advocacy outreach.". In any event, Vargo's falling out with Niall O'Dowd, who was a major Hillary Clinton backer and a central force in Irish immigrant politics, has been a divisive setback.

After Vargo openly criticized Irish immigrant advocates for being racist in seeking special treatment, O'Dowd answered in the Irish Times that Vargo "should stick to Hollywood galas and stop insulting Irish illegal migrants to the US who are trying to regularize their positions." [Nov. 20, 2007]. O'Dowd's position, supported by every Irish-American group, is that should seek to regularize their immigrant status, as they have on occasion in the past, while at the same time supporting an alliance of all immigrant groups pursuing comprehensive reform.

On another vital Irish issue, "We need America to be a watchdog against extremist behavior" in Northern Ireland, says Mairtin O'Muilleor, a prominent publisher in both Northern Ireland and the US. O'Muilleor cited the recent episode in Belfast in which Iris Robinson, wife of First Minister Peter Robinson, castigated a Gay Pride parade and proposed therapy as an alternative cure. No one from the US spoke out, O'Muilleor noted, even though the American government is an important party to the Good Friday Agreement. Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party [DUP], which Robinson represents, has deep historical ties with the US Republican Party and evangelical Christians.

More important, O'Muilleor stressed, the peace agreement needs to be "cemented with jobs", especially in the heavily-Republican and Loyalist neighborhoods which suffered most during the 30-year war. Investment, however, is skewed heavily towards Protestant-dominated institutions and neighborhoods, even though a Sinn Fein leader, Tom Hartley, is the mayor of Belfast and Sinn Fein is the city's largest party. In a response Obama could endorse, the New York City controller's office has initiated pension fund investments in disadvantaged communities of Belfast, a move that may be copied by other US officials, O'Muilleor said.

These are proposals that Obama could support as a candidate, which would resonate in Irish-American communities, O'Muellior argues.

The point he and others make is that there is an Irish-American vote to be won through concrete steps to recognize the distinct needs of the Irish, a path followed with great success for Bill and Hillary Clinton. The Clintons became heroes to the Irish on both sides of the ocean, starting with Clinton's bold support for a visa for Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams in 1992, a step that helped unlock the peace process of the later decade.

With the Clintons now supporting Obama, John McCain is vulnerable in Irish-America. This year he excoriated Adams and Sinn Fein at a huge Irish-American fundraising dinner with Adams in the audience. The diatribe was an echoing reminder of the ugly polarizations that preceded the peace process. McCain is out of step with that process. Even George Bush, according to the Irish, seems fully briefed in his diplomatic role in supporting the fragile process.

To ignore this Irish dimension serves to the advantage of the implicit Republican appeal on racial issues like affirmative action and religious issues like abortion. Winning more Irish Democrats and independents to Obama will require an understanding of the progressive dimensions of Irish-American culture, rooted in an immigrant working class experience and nationalist ethos.

Aside from producing some green O'Bama tee shirts earlier this year, the Obama campaign has not yet displayed the rhetoric or resources necessary to win its share of the Irish-American vote. Given the Electoral College, the November election may hinge on this redefinition of race and ethnicity.

TOM HAYDEN recently returned from one week in Belfast and Dublin. He is the author of Irish on the Inside [Verso].

Friday, July 18, 2008

Cowen ushers in new era for Irish America

Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen ushered in a new era in Irish- American relations in New York last night with a rousing speech which underlined his commitment to solving the Irish immigration issue. Mr Cowen, (pictured here with ILIR vice-chairman Ciaran Staunton) said: "It's a priority for our administration to try and sort this out."

Taoiseach signals new campaign on illegals
Irish Times, Ireland - 15 hours ago
THE TAOISEACH, Brian Cowen, yesterday signalled that the Government would be launching a new drive to resolve the issue of the undocumented Irish in the US. ..

Cowen 'more genuine in commitment to illegal Irish'
Irish Independent, Ireland - 9 hours ago
The Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform in the US says it believes Brian Cowen is more genuine in his commitment to helping illegal Irish immigrants than his ...

Cowen in visa bid to resolve emigrant plight
Irish Independent, Ireland - 12 hours ago
By Fionnan Sheahan in New York TAOISEACH Brian Cowen wants to grant more visas to Americans to come to Ireland as a way to resolve the plight of illegal ...

Friday, June 27, 2008

Obama jeopardizes Irish American support

You may or may not have heard of a woman called Trina Vargo who has been extremely hostile to undocumented Irish immigrants. Unfortunately, (at least according to Vargo) she is the outreach woman for Barack Obama on Irish American issues. This is some surprise to the ILIR, let me tell you, given that we are the largest active group in Irish America. She's never done any outreach to us, and she'll never be forgiven for likening undocumented Irish to lipstick and pigs. Hopefully someone in the Obama camp sees this train crash before it happens. Vargo will seriously jeopardize his chances of winning the Irish American vote. See below for two pieces by Brian O'Dwyer and Niall O'Dowd.

Obama presidency would be bad for undocumented Irish

Brian O'Dwyer
Irish Echo, April 2008

(Brian O'Dwyer is a prominent attorney in NYC and the chairman of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center. This op-ed appeared in April when there were still three candidates in the race.)

In the midst of a long and arduous presidential campaign the inevitable question for those of us engaged in advocacy for Irish immigration arises.

Which candidate will advance the cause of Irish immigration and end the decades old discrimination that the Irish have suffered as a result of a cruel immigration law beset with bigotry?

Of course we have the benefit of the campaign position papers and the history of the candidates.

In large measure the position of all three candidates Senators Clinton,Obama and McCain are similar. All three supported comprehensive immigration reform and both their history and their positions would indicate that as part of that reform that they would each support a path to citizenship for those who are presently undocumented.

In particular, Senator McCain has shown a courage rarely exhibited in modern political life by adhering to his stand and sponsoring comprehensive immigration legislation.

While other Republican candidates seemed to spend most of their time in campaign debates demonizing recent immigrants, Senator McCain was often a lonely voice for a reasonable solution to the problems of recent immigration. Senators Clinton and Obama also maintained, amidst general agreement in the Democratic debates, that they too would support immigration reform and regularization of the undocumented.

The task then is to look beyond the words and to examine the close advisers to the candidates who will have the most to say in the next four to eight years as to whether the rank inequity of the present law and its inherent unfairness to the Irish will finally be ended.

In this regard, Senators McCain and Clinton clearly have the edge while an a Obama administration must give us all cause for alarm.

Senator McCain's advisers on Ireland and Irish issues include both Jeff Cleary and Grant Lally. These two men have been both prominent in Irish-American Republicans and the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform. Long before it was fashionable, both men gave their time and talents to the Emerald Isle Immigration Center and have been long-standing board members.

Irish-American Republicans was one of the first groups to support Senator McCain at a time when virtually the entire country had written him off as a candidate. In a McCain administration, these men can be counted on to be strong and forceful voices for the Irish.

We can feel no such comfort in predicting the course of an Obama administration. Obama's adviser on Ireland and the Irish is Trina Vargo, the head of the US Ireland Alliance.

She is clearly hostile to ending the decades-old intolerance that is besetting our people. In an article in the Irish Times last November she argued that "Irish illegals are not a special case" and that those who sought an end to the discriminatory treatment of the Irish were "morally wrong".

She further argued that those who sought legislation to relieve the suffering of the thousands that are here without documentation were attempting "to put lipstick on that pig." Obviously it will be a long eight years for the suffering undocumented with Ms. Vargo in the councils of an Obama administration

Irish America can be immensely proud of its work done in the past decades. It has advanced the cause of peace and worked hard in the political process to provide opportunities for those who would seek to come to this country and contribute to its well being as our ancestors have done.

Of course a great deal of work still remains to achieve the equity that we have long sought. That's why this election is critical. It would be a shame to see our work. and the work of our fathers, come to naught in a hostile administration.

Who Speaks for Obama?

June 25, 2008

By Niall O'Dowd

The Barack Obama campaign has done a remarkable job so far this election year, positioning a young and seemingly untried freshman senator as the new voice that America yearns for.

The latest Newsweek poll shows him leading by a whopping fifteen points against John McCain who has got off to a sluggish start.

While that may well be an outlier, there seems to be a groundswell in the country for change, brought about by the Iraq war, sluggish economy and the unpopularity of incumbent George Bush.

All of which makes the issue of Obama’s Irish positions very important. Major issues of Irish interest, not least his commitment on the future of the Irish peace process, his position on the undocumented question and on repatriating profits by American companies abroad are critical to the community and to the Irish in Ireland.

The need for strong Irish representation at the Obama campaign is of particular importance of the activist Irish in this country who number in the hundreds of thousands.

One has only to remember how effective this Irish lobby was in introducing an Irish policy to the then candidate Bill Clinton back in 1992 and all that flowed from that to understand the importance of who speaks for Obama on Ireland.

Despite the best efforts however, it remains unclear who speaks for Obama on Irish issues and where the candidate stands.

For instance, John Dearie, Chair of the Irish American Presidential Forum, has been unable to secure a commitment for the candidate to appear at one of the forum events.

Meanwhile, Trina Vargo, head of the US Ireland Alliance and a former staffer for Senator Edward Kennedy has apparently been making it clear to anyone interested that she is the gatekeeper for Obama on Irish issues.

That would be controversial to say the least. I worked closely with Vargo on the Irish peace process but since then she has become an outspoken critic of Irish American activism and has stated publicly that efforts to secure visas for Irish undocumented are the equivalent of putting “lipstick on a pig.”

That last comment inflamed Irish American opinion . Vargo seemed to go out of her way to denigrate and insult efforts to help the Irish undocumented.

Her malevolent intervention came at a time when it seemed some progress was being made on the issue. It was a shameful attempt to condemn young Irish immigrants to life in the shadows and Vargo was widely condemned for it.

Writing in the Irish Echo Brian O’Dwyer, head of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center wrote “She is clearly hostile to ending the decades-old intolerance that is besetting our people. In an article in the Irish Times last November she argued that “Irish illegals are not a special case” and that those who sought an end to the discriminatory treatment of the Irish were “morally wrong”.

She further argued that those who sought legislation to relieve the suffering of the thousands that are here without documentation were attempting “to put lipstick on that pig.” Obviously it will be a long eight years for the suffering undocumented with Ms. Vargo in the councils of an Obama administration.”

She remains a little known figure in the community at large. Her organization sends 12 students a year to Ireland and has major Irish government support to do so. Yet she has put herself forward, especially in Ireland, as speaking for the Irish American community.

Of course she is entitled to do whatever she wants but if the Obama campaign believes she is a true representative of Irish American opinion they would be making a grave mistake.

She does not speak for the community and indeed, is regarded in a very hostile light by most Irish American activists. Having Vargo as an Irish advisor will not fly with this community.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

America's Voice Aiming to Raise Support for Reform

There's a new group in DC called "America's Voice," which is aiming at building bigger and broader support for immigration reform by way of a rapid-response communications "war-room".

America's Voice (great name by the way!) is headed up by Frank Sharry who used to run the National Immigration Forum.

Frank spoke at the last ILIR rally day in Washington and is one of America's best voices on the issue.

America's Voice (you can read more about the organization here) intends taking on the anti-immigrant rhetoric in the nation's media. And not before time. This battle will be won or lost in the media and we need all the help we can get.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Seamus McDonagh Takes Stage for ILIR!

We are delighted to announce to our New York based readers that the Irish boxer-turned-actor Seamus McDonagh is returning to New York for ONE NIGHT ONLY with his amazing show, Shamrock Kid. Ringside Seats are $20 and the event is taking place at the New York Irish Center in Long Island City on Friday June 13 at 8pm.

Click here for more details

Joe Duffy Show in Ireland

Lord above is all I can say. Joe Duffy on RTE in Ireland was trying to do a program on undocumented Irish this week when his show was interrupted by some members of the lunatic fringe - one guy likened coming to the US as house-breaking; and another man said he would advocate the death penalty if that's what the US wanted. The incredible lack of sympathy - or indeed awareness - from the callers would probably put most people off ever thinking of returning home. Thankfully, other callers, including Celine Kennelly from the Irish Immigration Pastoral Center injected some sense into the discussion.

Click here to hear the discussion

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Great Immigration Panic

The New York Times
June 3, 2008
Editorial: The Great Immigration Panic

Someday, the country will recognize the true cost of its war on illegal immigration. We don’t mean dollars, though those are being squandered by the billions. The true cost is to the national identity: the sense of who we are and what we value. It will hit us once the enforcement fever breaks, when we look at what has been done and no longer recognize the country that did it.

A nation of immigrants is holding another nation of immigrants in bondage, exploiting its labor while ignoring its suffering, condemning its lawlessness while sealing off a path to living lawfully. The evidence is all around that something pragmatic and welcoming at the American core has been eclipsed, or is slipping away.

An escalating campaign of raids in homes and workplaces has spread indiscriminate terror among millions of people who pose no threat. After the largest raid ever last month — at a meatpacking plant in Iowa — hundreds were swiftly force-fed through the legal system and sent to prison. Civil-rights lawyers complained, futilely, that workers had been steamrolled into giving up their rights, treated more as a presumptive criminal gang than as potentially exploited workers who deserved a fair hearing. The company that harnessed their desperation, like so many others, has faced no charges.

Immigrants in detention languish without lawyers and decent medical care even when they are mortally ill. Lawmakers are struggling to impose standards and oversight on a system deficient in both. Counties and towns with spare jail cells are lining up for federal contracts as prosecutions fill the system to bursting. Unbothered by the sight of blameless children in prison scrubs, the government plans to build up to three new family detention centers. Police all over are checking papers, empowered by politicians itching to enlist in the federal crusade.

This is not about forcing people to go home and come back the right way. Ellis Island is closed. Legal paths are clogged or do not exist. Some backlogs are so long that they are measured in decades or generations. A bill to fix the system died a year ago this month. The current strategy, dreamed up by restrictionists and embraced by Republicans and some Democrats, is to force millions into fear and poverty.

There are few national figures standing firm against restrictionism. Senator Edward Kennedy has bravely done so for four decades, but his Senate colleagues who are running for president seem by comparison to be in hiding. John McCain supported sensible reform, but whenever he mentions it, his party starts braying and he leaves the room. Hillary Rodham Clinton has lost her voice on this issue more than once. Barack Obama, gliding above the ugliness, might someday test his vision of a new politics against restrictionist hatred, but he has not yet done so. The American public’s moderation on immigration reform, confirmed in poll after poll, begs the candidates to confront the issue with courage and a plan. But they have been vague and discreet when they should be forceful and unflinching.

The restrictionist message is brutally simple — that illegal immigrants deserve no rights, mercy or hope. It refuses to recognize that illegality is not an identity; it is a status that can be mended by making reparations and resuming a lawful life. Unless the nation contains its enforcement compulsion, illegal immigrants will remain forever Them and never Us, subject to whatever abusive regimes the powers of the moment may devise.

Every time this country has singled out a group of newly arrived immigrants for unjust punishment, the shame has echoed through history. Think of the Chinese and Irish, Catholics and Americans of Japanese ancestry. Children someday will study the Great Immigration Panic of the early 2000s, which harmed countless lives, wasted billions of dollars and mocked the nation’s most deeply held values.

Read the comments at the NY Times.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Headlines from the Irish American media this week

Cowen to Press for Undocumented
Irish Voice - New York, NY, USA
He also expressed a wish to meet with ILIR and people from the undocumented Irish community. Cowen has family in the US and once worked as a student in New York...

Cowen to address undocumented crisis in U.S. visit
Irish Echo - New York, NY, USA
Taoiseach Brian Cowen is expected to visit the U.S. in the near future, his first visit as head of government and part of his mission will be to address the plight of the undocumented Irish.

Passport Needed for Travel
Irish Voice - New York, NY, USA
“Of course you always take the risk when traveling inland if you are undocumented, but there is no law coming into effect or anything else that we are aware ...

Cowen to address undocumented crisis in U.S. visit

By Ray O'Hanlon
Irish Echo May 28

Taoiseach Brian Cowen is expected to visit to the U.S. in the near future, his first visit as head of government, and part of his mission will be to address the plight of the undocumented Irish.

Cowen met with Irish Lobby for Immigration reform chairman Niall O'Dowd in Dublin last week. O'Dowd described the meeting as "very positive" and said he was of the view that Cowen was "totally committed" to helping the undocumented Irish.

Helping the undocumented is one of the few areas of apparent cross-party agreement in Ireland although opposition parties, most especially Fine Gael, have criticized the Fianna Fáil-led government for a lack of progress on the idea of a bilateral visa deal between Ireland and
the U.S.

"I regret that the government missed a window of opportunity on this issue last November when it agreed a motion with Fine Gael to seek a bilateral agreement which would benefit Irish and American citizens seeking to work and travel between the two countries," said Fine Gael TD, Michael Ring, in a recent statement.

"This motion attracted cross-party support, so the government needs to fulfill the wishes of the Dáil by dealing with the plight of these Irish citizens," Ring said. "A bilateral agreement exists between the U.S. administration and the Australian government which allows 10,000 Australians to work in the United States annually while American citizens are granted the same number of Australian visas in return. "Given the strong economic ties between the island of Ireland and the United States I believe an agreement of this nature is the way forward," Ring said.

With regard to the undocumented, Sinn Féin senator Pearse Doherty said it was an issue "deep in the hearts of Irish people both here and in the U.S. and I want to pledge Sinn Féin's continued support for the (ILIR) campaign."

Doherty recently proposed a successful all party motion in the Seanad (Irish Senate) in support of the undocumented, this so that those campaigning for the undocumented would be able to argue that both houses of the Oireachtas were in support of their campaign. The motion was passed unanimously in the 66-member upper house.

"The undocumented Irish in America play a full and positive role in U.S. society and contribute to the economy. They have made good lives for themselves and are very much at home in the U.S. However the fear of not being allowed return means visits home are out of the question. This puts a huge strain on both the Irish in the U.S. and their families here at home as they cannot return for family get-togethers, weddings or even funerals. They are effectively cut off from their families.

"Every effort must be made to keep this issue to the fore of politics both here and in the U.S.," Senator Doherty concluded.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Taoiseach Cowen Boost for Undocumented Irish

The Irish Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, met with the Chairman of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, Niall O'Dowd, this week in Dublin for an hour-long meeting on the plight of the undocumented Irish in the US.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr O'Dowd described it as "very positive," and said it was clear that Mr Cowen is totally committed to helping the undocumented Irish. Mr Cowen said he will be visiting the US soon and intends to meet with the ILIR and people from the community.

He told Mr O'Dowd that he wants to hear first-hand from those most affected by the situation. Mr Cowen noted that he had worked in the US as a student and understood the impact on the Irish American community.

We will keep you posted on any new developments in relation to the Taoiseach's visit to the US.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Prayers for Senator Edward Kennedy

Senator Edward Kennedy, 76, who was diagnosed with brain cancer on Tuesday, is in our thoughts this week. His commitment to securing comprehensive immigration reform has made him a hero in our community.

Senator Kennedy is a real giant of the Senate. He put immigration reform on the map and has worked tirelessly to try and ensure that undocumented immigrants are not exploited and find a fair way to ensure they can stay here legally.

Without his work this issue would not even be on the radar. He attended three of our ILIR rallies and his impassioned words in defense of the undocumented will stay with us for a long time. He's been an enormous friend to undocumented Irish as well as every single Irish person who's ever set foot in the United States.

We wish him the best in his battle against his illness and we are certain that if anyone can recover from this illness he can.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Immigration Effort Back on Track

The ILIR met with Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, last week in an effort to write a new chapter in the push for immigration reform in the US.

As the Irish Echo put it this week, that effort is now Back On Track while the Irish Voice said there is a real need to work together.

We all hope that the immigration effort is back on track now with the Irish Government and ILIR working together to secure a future for the Irish in America.

ILIR vice-chairman Ciaran Staunton and Executive Director Kelly Fincham also met with the House speaker Nancy Pelosi (see picture above) who said she would be calling on the Irish to help support efforts to usher in immigration reform in the next Congress.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Raise ambition level on immigration, says ILIR

Time is pressing

By Irish Echo Staff

The Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform said this week that its goals are the same as when it was founded in December 2005. It wants to find a path to legal status for the undocumented Irish in the U.S., and a path to legal status for future Irish immigrants.

But says Executive Director Kelly Fincham in an opinion piece in this week's Irish Echo, time is pressing. "The Economist recently warned that the weakening Irish property market could topple the country's economy because of Ireland's dependence on construction-related
revenue," she writes.

"Unemployment in the Republic is higher than it has been in a decade, while the first quarter's increase in unemployment was the worst since 1975. Thousands of construction jobs are also at risk in the North because of the downturn in building activity," she adds.

"Our community is in deep difficulty. A two-tier structure has emerged in Irish neighborhoods over legal status," she argues. "Organizations such as the GAA are unable to play games in Ireland because of visa issues, while Irish immigration centers across the U.S. are reporting a surge in new arrivals."

"From the very beginning, the ILIR aligned ourselves with the Kennedy/McCain bill, which sought to create a conditional path to legal status for all undocumented immigrants. Kennedy/McCain did not promote amnesty, and neither did we. We have never sought amnesty for the undocumented Irish. We sought legality," Fincham says.

And she adds: "We believe it's time to lift the ambition level. Let's work towards a solution which reverses what Senator Kennedy described as the one of the unforeseen consequences of the 1965 Immigration Act: the 'dramatic and significant' discrimination against Irish immigrants
to the U.S."

Friday, April 25, 2008

Support from a US citizen

We don't often do this; but this comment deserves a post of its own...From Mary Kate in New York

MaryKate: I have been reading through here. I don't know how this is going to be received, but, here goes.....

My great-grandfather was born in Tourmakeady. After a brief stint in London, as a young man he found his way to New York City c. 1920. He had much less than some of the posters here have. He didn't have much to get by on: 8th grade education, not many marketable skills (even by the day's standards,) and only had his sisters to rely on for company.

Time passed for him. He met a girl from roughly the next town over in Ireland. They married, raised many children, and used their house in Brooklyn to help others adjust to America: they would board folks off the boat until they found a place to live. In the meantime, he worked the docks in Brooklyn and did the work most of the high and mighty "Americans" wouldn't touch with a barge pole. (During the Depression things were particularly bad: they lost a baby to genetic defect and hospital bills were terrible.)

Many years later, I look at his wedding photo, and then I look around: the sacrifices he and his wife made all those years ago paid off hugely. His daughter and her husband (may he rest in peace) have been helping folks in Woodside for decades. More than half of his grandchildren went to university: one is a professor at McGill in Canada. Another is a lawyer. His great-grandchildren include an engineer, a stockbroker, and my sister is a doctor-to-be. I am about to graduate with a degree in computer animation. All of this wouldn't have been possible without him: if he had never left or dared for something more I would not have been born, nor would an entire clan of people exist.

"So what does this have to do with the present discussion?"-More than you realize. Pop got here by jumping ship to Canada & then sailing down the Hudson: today that would get him INS all over his tail. He worked his @#$ off helping the US Navy at the Yards for his part in the war effort: today that would land him in jail as his contracts wouldn't be legit. He had a license until he was too old to see (not possible now) and his emigration helped others coming after him (not encouraged now.) He even helped his son-in-law (another Mayo man) get started in business-today he might not have the money! To say that I am disgusted is an understatement-my Pop EARNED the right to be here as much as I have the right to exist, which is more than I can say about some fat cats in Congress or especially King George.

My best advice is HOLD THE LINE. DO NOT BREAK. IF YOU TRULY WANT TO STAY HERE, NEVER BREAK OR THE BAD GUYS WIN. Immigration reform is needed badly here and the only folks who have a hope of changing it are immigrants, not necessarily voters: the work illegal immigrants generate is worth billions of dollars. If that were to suddenly dry up and people went on strike it could cripple the infrastructure-deporting millions of people at once is damned near impossible and 50,000+ illegal Irish could be leaders easily of a movement. (look up Mother Jones if you don't believe me.) Learn more about the history of the Irish here: there is a lot more to it than a song by the Pogues or, at least what I have seen from kin overseas, a textbook spiel (greater obstacles have been faced and overcome.) Speak to American friends who will listen-they will help you. And yes, albeit blunderingly with green beer and bad versions of The Wild Rover, reach out to your local AOH, chock full of Irish Americans whose pockets are deep and connections big.

In the meantime, wait a little until after the next election. Don't put much stock in HIlary or McCain-neither seem keen on changing much (McCain is towing the old xenophobic party line and Hilary doesn't give a tinker's damn about immigrants except if they are Chinese snakeheads who can intimidate the downtrodden Chinatowners into "donations". ) Don't wait for the Irish govt. to do much: if the economy starts to buck like a mule again the priorities shall shift. HOLD THE LINE, AND DEMAND WHAT YOU WANT.

And to the lady before me: don't give up just yet. Money can't solve everything, you're right, but going two steps forward and three back doesn't help either. You want better opportunity and so does he. The fact that you are still hanging tough and hanging on should be a testament, not a tragedy: my Pop was damned near broke, had a wife who constantly argued with his sister, had no health insurance, three small kids, and a fourth one slowly dying because he couldn't keep food in his stomach. So what did he do?-He set up a still in his basement at the height of Prohibition for extra cash, managed to have two more children, took another job with the local church, and by the time he was very old (100) surrounded himself with all his numerous kin, toothlessly shaking his cane at the sky and taunting the [long dead] brother who stayed behind that he beat him.

Have faith. It will work out in time.