Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Schumer to take helm on immigration panel

By Ray O'Hanlon

February 18, 2009 New York's Seantor Charles Schumer is the new chairman of the Senate Immigration-Sub Committee. He will take over the role vacated recently by Senator Edward Kennedy who held the position for 28 years.

The sub-committee, which also covers issues pertaining to refugees and border security, is an arm of the full Senate Judiciary Committee and in its new form will be made up of six Democrats, including Schumer, and foruR republicans with the ranking Republican being Senator John Cornyn of Texas.

Senator Schumer has considerable experience in immigration issues and his name has been for years associated with the diversity visa program.

Another member of the panel, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, recently visited Ireland and is seen as a strong supporters of Irish causes in Washington.

Meanwhile, Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform vice chairman Ciaran Staunton was back in the U.S. this week after a week long visit to Ireland during which he met with a number of Irish political leaders including foreign minister Micheál Martin and the new secretary general of the Department of Foreign Affairs, David Cooney.

Also at the meeting was Kate Hickey of the Irish-based Friends and Families of the Undocumented Irish lobby group.

"It was fairly good," Staunton said of the two-hour meeting.

"I was very impressed with the range and depth of Martin's knowledge of the situation both on the ground in the community and with the political situation in Washington. He understands that we have two very important issues at hand; the issue of the undocumented and the issue of future legal access to America," Staunton said.

"Clearly he is being kept well-up-to-date by Ambassador (Michael) Collins and others."

The meeting also included ILIR board member Bart Murphy who joined by phone from San Francisco.

Staunton said he was also impressed by David Cooney's grasp of the issues.

"Having grown up in an immigrant house he brings a unique insight to the immigration issue," Staunton said of the British-born and now top Irish diplomat

"He has a great understanding of the diaspora," he said.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

ILIR meetings in Boston, NY & San Francisco

The ILIR will be holding a series of meetings over the coming weeks. Please email iliroffice AT gmail DOT com if you would like to be notified of the meetings.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Immigration Reform Advocates Ready to Try Again

This time around the circumstances are more favorable for passing reform legislation
By Justin Ewers

Posted February 13, 2009 U.S. News and World Report

When immigration reform last made an appearance on Capitol Hill, in the summer of 2007, the flood of phone calls from opponents of the legislation was so great, it temporarily shut down the congressional switchboard.

The bill's supporters, an unlikely alliance of Republicans and Democrats from President Bush and John McCain to Ted Kennedy and Harry Reid, had spent months searching for consensus. But the furious, well-organized response from conservatives opposed to "amnesty" for illegal immigrants left them short of the 60 votes needed to bring the bill to a final vote in the Senate.

In the end, a small majority of senators—mostly Republicans but including some Democrats—voted against the measure to toughen border enforcement, crack down on employers of undocumented workers, and create a pathway to citizenship for the country's 12 million illegal immigrants. "I had hoped for a bipartisan accomplishment," Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate minority leader, said after the bill was tabled. "What we got was a bipartisan defeat."

Undeterred, only 18 months later, would-be immigration reformers are gearing up to try again. Shrugging off concerns about how the issue will fare politically during an economic downturn, they are pressing President Obama to keep a campaign pledge to tackle the issue in his first year. "It's never a perfect time to do this," says Tamar Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks USA, a national federation working to change immigration law. "But at some point, you have to bite the bullet and say, 'This is the time.' "

On the face of it, what was politically impossible then does not seem quite so unattainable anymore. If a bill is introduced in the next year, it will be the first time since 1965 that major immigration legislation is considered without Republicans in control of any branch of government. Reformers not only have a popular president on their side and a Senate Democratic majority hovering just below 60 votes, they also have some highly motivated allies. Harry Reid, the Senate's Democratic majority leader, is up for re-election next year in Nevada, a state that is 25 percent Latino. Former presidential candidate John McCain, meanwhile, has reportedly returned to the Senate determined to revisit one of his signature issues.

"Even though there was so much bloodshed on the Senate floor last time, there do seem to be some willing warriors ready to take it back on," says Angela Kelley, director of the Immigration Policy Center in Washington. Polls show that nearly 70 percent of voters favor some path to citizenship for illegal immigrants if they pay a penalty, pay taxes, and learn English.

Questions still linger, of course, around how much support a renewed reform effort can expect from conservatives in both parties with unemployment rising. Michael Steele, the newly elected chairman of the Republican National Committee, has insisted that his party will not be softening its opposition to "amnesty." Reformers, though, are pressing on with their outreach efforts. If history is any guide, Congress may want to get ready for a few phone calls.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Irish urged to revisit visa deal with U.S.

The Irish Echo interviewed ILIR vice-chairman Ciaran Staunton this week. Ciaran is in Ireland talking to the Irish Government about the need for a US-Irish solution to immigration reform, particularly something that will allow for more regular movement of citizens from both countries.

The meeting came in the same week that leading San Francisco-based reform campaigner, Bart Murphy, called for a bilateral deal between Dublin and Washington along the lines of an existing visa treaty between the U.S. and Australia. (more)

Misery of the returned emigrant

The Irish Times, Wed, Feb 11, 2009

OPINION:After 16 years in Canada, I came home to Ireland. Big mistake. A really big mistake . . . writes BRENDAN LANDERS.

THERE ARE three types of people who uproot themselves and emigrate to make their lives anew in a country that is not their own by birthright. Some are gifted with itchy feet and a lust for adventure – they abandon their homeland to satisfy their curiosity about the wide world beyond. Some are fortunate enough to happen upon a foreign place that touches their soul or to bond with a person who makes the prospect of migration more attractive than a life lived at home without the other. And some are forced to emigrate because their native place has nothing substantial to offer them in life.

Most of us who left Ireland during the 1980s fell into the third category. We went away not because we had itchy feet, had found our Eldorado or fallen in love with an exotic foreigner, but because Ireland had nothing to offer us. No jobs, no opportunities, no scope to follow our dreams or aspire to even a modicum of success in life. The Irish economy was broken and it would take a miracle to fix it.

Along with the dismal state of the nation’s finances, there was a sense that whatever wealth existed was hoarded greedily by a coterie of well-connected professionals, wide boys and golden circles. The land of our birth offered us nothing but tacit encouragement to leave. Brian Lenihan snr, the father of our current Minister for Finance, put it succinctly when he said: “Sure we can’t all live on a small island.”

Emigration was expected of us and so, forlorn and abandoned, we departed. We overcame our grief, our disappointment, our homesickness, our longing for the day-to-day company of our families and friends.

We settled and went about the business of building new lives for ourselves in our homes away from home. We didn’t expect to live in Ireland again.

Then, after a decade or so of exile, a sequence of remarkable events conspired to persuade us that maybe miracles can happen after all. We watched agog as Ireland underwent an awesome transformation. The country transmogrified from an impoverished backwater racked by unemployment and a culture of despair into the epitome of cool and a clamorous hothouse of self-indulgent affluence.

U2 became the biggest rock’n’roll band in the world and, unlike previous Irish rock stars such as Van Morrison, Thin Lizzy, Rory Gallagher and the Boomtown Rats, who all invariably moved to London at the first taste of success, they stayed in Dublin.

Jim Sheridan and Neil Jordan directed world-class movies that won Oscars and they stayed in Ireland instead of moving to Hollywood. Alan Parker made a movie of The Commitmentsand Roddy Doyle bestrode the world of literature, won the Booker Prize and didn’t move to Paris or New York.

By virtue of Michael Flatley’s dazzling footwork, Riverdancecreated a sensation in theatres throughout the world and Flatley actually moved to Ireland.

The IRA declared a ceasefire and the country was at peace, albeit tentatively so. Michael D Higgins served as minister for arts, culture and the Gaeltacht. A poet in Cabinet, for God’s sake – it was like 1916 all over again.

Tribunals were exposing corruption in a host of establishment institutions and there was much heady talk of a brave new world of openness, honesty, transparency and ethics in public life.

Hope peeped out from under the carpet.

Mary Robinson, a principled, liberal woman, won the presidency and put a candle in the window of her residence in the Phoenix Park as a beacon of light and a welcome home to the children of the diaspora. For us, this was a revolutionary act of sensitivity unprecedented in the country’s history.

US multinationals flocked to Ireland to invest their money and gain a toehold in Europe, and the eponymous Celtic Tiger was born. Money talked the talk and Ireland quickly learned to walk the walk. There was full employment. We went home on holidays and we shook our heads in bemusement at the profusion of “Help Wanted” signs in shop windows.

The Irish government sent emissaries throughout the diaspora, asking us to come home and take our place in the new Ireland. They promised jobs, prosperity, vindication and a proud place in a proud new Ireland. And we, poor fools, chose to believe them. How could we have refused, we who had, for years, deep inside ourselves, wondered what life might have been like if we’d been able to stay home?

We dared to believe, stifled our doubts, bought into the new zeitgeist and gave up the lives we had so carefully and painfully constructed. We sold our houses, packed our furniture into containers, uprooted our families and came back to Ireland.

Things were good at first. We found jobs that paid well. So what if the houses cost a fortune – all our savings went into the deposit and we still had to borrow a small fortune – weren’t the universities free for our kids and won’t they have a wonderful life without the shadow of emigration hanging over their heads? And weren’t the old-age pensions going up? And wasn’t this a grand new country after all its troubles?

We blinked when we saw the old and infirm racked up like refugees on trolleys in hospital waiting rooms, enduring conditions that would be embarrassing in the developing world.

We baulked when we saw the subversion of progressive initiatives like the Freedom of Information Act and the Equality Agency.

We gaped in disbelief as successive ministers for finance behaved like lumpen proletariat lottery winners, squandered billions of euro in budget surpluses and pumped up inflation – had they no mothers, we wondered, to instill in them the good sense of saving for a rainy day?

We were overwhelmed with dejected deja vu when our taoiseach tied himself up in verbal knots trying to explain his ill-gotten gains at the Mahon tribunal. And we wept in despair when, in the face of his chicanery, the people re-elected him.

But the final nail was hammered into the coffin of our disenchantment when the financial crash came and the Government’s first instinct was to make the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of society pay for its mistakes.

We finally had to admit to ourselves that the golden circles hadn’t gone away, they’d just put on new coats.

Now here we are, utterly faithless in the disposition of our elected politicians, plagued with anxiety and insecurity, one job-loss away from ruin.

Our savings are gone and our houses are virtually worthless. Our children face a bleak future and the heart-rending prospect of forced emigration.

We made a terrible mistake. We came back. Because we wanted to, we believed that the country had changed.

We believed in the miracle.

We believed in the politicians.

In the electorate.

We were wrong.

Never again.

Brendan Landers is a Dublin-born freelance writer and journalist. His first novel, Milo Devine, was published by Poolbeg Press in 2001. From 1974 to 1981. he worked in Dublin as a bus conductor for CIÉ. In 1984, he went to Canada where he was publisher/managing editor of Ireland’s Eye, a magazine for Irish-Canadians, and also editor of the Irish Canada News, a Toronto-based monthly newspaper. In 2000, he returned to Dublin. He is married and the father of a young boy. His website is

© 2009 The Irish Times

Friday, February 06, 2009

Sign of the times in Cork

John Hickey, who returned from the U.S. to look for work. Irish Times

The Truth on Immigration: Niall O'Dowd

Irish Voice February 9

Chances for comprehensive immigration reform in the new Congress seem pretty bleak just a few weeks into the term.

Republicans in the House showed in their unanimous opposition to the Obama stimulus package that they will vote their own parochial interests rather than those of the country.

The fact is that the Republicans left in the House are the hard core who come from right wing constituencies where immigration reform is about as popular as skunk invasions.

If they agree all together to oppose the stimulus package then they will certainly band together against comprehensive reform.

If you have any doubts on that issue, consider the words of new Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele on Fox News last Sunday when he was asked whether Republicans were ready to move towards immigration reform.

Given that the Republican vote among Hispanics fell 13% in the last election, you would assume that the party would want to pay more attention to this critical constituency.

Only in the world of George Orwell and the Big Lie would Steele's response to the following question posed by Chris Wallace on Fox News constitute a change in policy.

Wallace: Does the GOP need to change its position on immigration reform, guest workers, path to citizenship, to reach out and say to Hispanics, "You have a home in the Republican Party?"

Steele: No. Well, I think the GOP's position on immigration is very much the position of many, many Hispanics who are in this country.

Wallace: Wait. Is the GOP position the position of George Bush and John McCain, which is for immigration reform, or ... or is it the position that was build the fence?

Steele: The GOP's position is secure our borders first. Let us know and let us make sure the American people know that we've taken care of the important business of dealing with illegal immigration into this country.

You cannot begin to address the concerns of the people who are already here unless and until you have made certain that no more are coming in behind them.

Wallace: So no change in the position of the party.

Steele: No change in the position on the party on that.

Steele's contention that Hispanics agree with the GOP position has to be one of the most blatant mistruths in this political season.

Given that reality, it is high time the comprehensive immigration lobby starting looking at a different way to get the job done.

It is clear that the omnibus, one size fits all approach which attracts such Republican ire will not pass. A piecemeal solution where various aspects of the issue are addressed in much less stormy conditions seems the only way forward.

In such a strategy, issues such as the Dream Act, which allows young men and women who came here as children and have no other country to go back to, should be given priority.

It is quite likely that farm worker groups will also manage to pass something that allows big agriculture to hire laborers from Mexico and elsewhere legally when they are needed.

In such an environment it will be every interest group for themselves. We in the Irish community must be prepared for that.

The E-3 Australian visa program, which allows 10,000 a year to come from Australia and renew their visas every two years, is one way forward. The hope is that the undocumented could avail of such a program if they returned home to apply for the visas, and were no longer undocumented when they did so.

It is a tough lift, but nevertheless it can be accomplished. There are some other options too, but unless we approach this debate in a forthright and clear manner we will fail to learn the lessons of last year's bitter loss on immigration reform.

As stories of many more Irish coming here fleeing hard times in Ireland again begin to percolate, we must make a major new effort to ensure our community is able to make their case too, along with everyone else in the great immigration debate.

Time to repair Irish American immigration mess

Irish Echo, February 4, 2009 The time has arrived to repair the "mess" that has been Irish immigration to the U.S. over the past forty years, Bart Murphy, a leading advocate of visas for the Irish, said this week.

In a statement, San Francisco-based Murphy said that while comprehensive immigration reform would be welcome, the "best hope of fixing this issue" lay in a bilateral immigrant visa deal between the U.S. and Ireland.

Murphy has been outspoken in the past on what he sees as failures on the part of government in both countries to regularize Irish immigration to America.

He serves on the board of directors of the San Francisco Irish Immigration and Pastoral Center, is past president and a member of the board of the national Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers, and also sits on the advisory board of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform.

In his statement, Murphy noted that Ireland was "bananas" over President Barack Obama.

"The pasts and futures of Ireland and America are intertwined, and on so many different levels. So intertwined that it is interesting to ponder the irony that if today's restrictive anti-Irish immigration laws were in place in 1850, Falmouth Kearney, Barack's great, great grandfather, would never have left Moneygall for Ohio and the United States would not now have its first Irish-African-American president," Murphy said.

But with Obama's election, Murphy stated, it was time "to renew the effort to solve this puzzle, not just on a 'once-off' basis as before, but to create a sustainable and long term solution."

Of comprehensive immigration reform, Murphy opined that with increasing U.S. unemployment and an economy in tatters, there may be little political appetite in Washington "to legalize an army of undocumented workers to compete with the already unemployed."

Murphy, in his statement, was dismissive of the recently expanded J1 visa program which allows up to 20,000 Irish college students and recent graduates to gain work experience in the U.S.

"The visa is for a period of only one year and cannot be renewed. The J1 visa is widely viewed as too restrictive, unwieldy and of absolutely no use to the Irish undocumented. Although of some temporary benefit to a few, it is not a viable solution to the Irish-U.S. immigration issue and it is intellectually dishonest to hold it out as such." Murphy said.

The best hope of "fixing this issue once and for all," he said, would be the successful negotiation of a bilateral treaty visa between Ireland and the U.S. along the lines of the Australian E3 visa that dates back to 2005.

"It is precisely here that the Irish government, through the department of foreign affairs and its embassy in Washington, needs to prioritize its efforts," Murphy stated.

"The Australian model creates a dedicated category of 10,500 work visas per annum with spouses and children not counted against the cap.

"The visa lasts for two years duration but is renewable indefinitely. Whilst it may or may not be of direct benefit to the undocumented Irish (rabbits have been pulled out of the hat before), it does provide a sensible and sustainable path forward."

Murphy said that the system of Irish immigration to the U.S. has been broken since 1965.

"For over forty four years," he said, "it has been nothing short of a haphazard, sporadic mess that, every now and then, has been temporarily tidied up by once-off fixes such as the Donnelly and Morrison visa programs."

As laudable as comprehensive reform might be, he argued, it too would be just a one-time fix.

"Even if it comes to pass, it is no substitute for a proper and sustainable system of Irish-U.S. migration. Successful negotiation of an Irish E3 visa is the way forward. Let us hope our leaders in Ireland and the U.S. have the conviction and moral courage to push for change, to fix an old, broken system and truly embrace the history and accomplishments of our two countries," he concluded.

It was Murphy who led the angry response last year to remarks made by then taoiseach Bertie Ahern who, on his St. Patrick's Day visit to Washington, poured cold water on prospects of visas for the undocumented Irish while suggesting that they might want to think about packing their bags and returning to Ireland.

Said Ahern: "The concept of an amnesty, wiping the sheet clean, is just not on. They are talking from a position of sitting in the bar, and talking nonsense."

Ahern's words prompted the angry riposte from Murphy.

"With these comments made whilst standing on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C. on Saint Patrick's afternoon and with all the subtlety of a head-butt, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern turned his government's back on supporting recent proposals put forward by the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform for a U.S.-Ireland bilateral visa program," was the lead line in an op-ed penned by Murphy and published in the Irish Echo.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Why deporting taxpayes makes no sense

This has got to be one of the daftest ideas ever, for many reasons, but given that U.S. Treasury needs every penny it can get at the moment, this seems downright perverse.

Colorado D.A. Ken Buck is going after the tax record of "illegal immigrants" in a bid to get them deported.

So now the U.S. Government is going to spend millions of dollars (which it can't afford to) on deporting people who are sending it billions of dollars?

As The New York Times reports today;
The campaign is causing concern at the I.R.S., which says illegal immigrants paid almost $50 billion in taxes from 1996 to 2003, and among immigrants’ rights groups, which call the operation a thinly disguised attempt to root out illegal immigrants.