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.