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.