ILIR Intensify Lobbying as Immigration Reform is Addressed in the Senate

Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Kelly Fincham, ILIR Executive Director and Niall O'Dowd, ILIR Chairman.

By Declan O'Kelly, Contributor
June / July 2006

It has been a busy few months for the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform [ILIR].  Shortly after we went to press on our Top 100 issue, well over 2,000 Irish from all over the country descended on Washington, D.C. for a day of lobbying where they were addressed by Senators McCain, Kennedy, Clinton and Schumer.  In what was a memorable display of solidarity, March 8 was the day the Irish voice truly emerged in the national immigration debate. A few weeks later it was back to earth or rather back to the sidewalk as ILIR was not allowed to participate in New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade as the parade committee does not allow advocacy groups to march. This did not deter the group from holding a press conference in midtown before gathering in front of the parade-reviewing stand. The next big day for ILIR was March 29, when Senator John McCain attended a rally in the Bronx. The reception McCain received was more akin to a rock star than a politician and he gave a rousing speech to the crowd that packed St. Barnabas High School Chapel. “The Irish have been coming to the United States, contributing to our nation’s economic and social growth for decades. They embody the determination and desire of those who come to America seeking a better life for themselves and their families,” McCain told the fired-up crowd. The rally galvanized support for a final push of lobbying before the Senate met to debate the issue. On April 6, after almost a week of intense debate, it looked like a deal between Republicans and Democrats called the Hagel Martinez Compromise might pave the way for all eleven million illegal immigrants to eventually become citizens. The compromise proposed an increase in work-based green cards from 290,000 to 450,000 and contained provisions for border security, interior security and employer enforcement provisions. The compromise broke up undocumented immigrants and their naturalization options into three categories: – Illegal immigrants residing here for over five years, about seven million, could become eligible for citizenship if they underwent background checks, paid back taxes and fines, were proficient in English and working full time. – Illegal immigrants residing here for between two to five years, about three million, would have to travel to a port of entry to apply for a temporary work visa. They would still be eligible for citizenship but the process would take a few more years – Illegal immigrants in the country less than two years, about one million, would have to leave the country and apply for a temporary work visa from abroad, but they would not be guaranteed. The deal was enthusiastically welcomed in the Irish community but the joy was short-lived. When the Senate voted the following day, the bill was resoundingly defeated, receiving just 38 of the 60 votes it needed to be passed. Both sides blamed the other, but politicking and disagreements on amendment procedures dealt fatal blows to the bill. As ILIR President Grant Lally told the Irish Voice, “There was a short deadline to reach agreement. Many [senators] had already booked overseas trips for their vacation and were scrambling to get out of town the day Hagel Martinez came up for a vote. The leadership deal made the day before had many names on it, but some senators may have felt slighted that they were not included in the deal. Some felt that there were those who wanted to use it as a political issue, others wanted to put their amendments forward before it was voted on.” The ILIR quickly regrouped, and on April 20, ILIR Vice-Chairman Ciarán Staunton and Grant Lally met with senior aides of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Arlen Spector and representatives of two other Republican senators key to the immigration debate. “We met with the staff of Senators Martinez, Santorum and Spector. There are some issues with amendments to be debated, but they are determined to take it back on the floor and get a bill out of it. We are conscious that there will be another break for Memorial Day weekend and it is vital that this gets settled before then so that it can go to discussion with the House in the summer,” said Staunton. Lally explained what would happen next with the bill. “The negotiations now will surround amendments, how many will be allowed, when they can be discussed and in what order.” As the immigration reform issue reaches this critical phase, Kelly Fincham, ILIR Executive Director, stressed why it is so important for ILIR members and volunteers to contact elected officials. “It is more urgent now for us to be heard, as the anti-immigrant people are already outnumbering us twenty to one on the phones.” As we go to press, more town hall meetings have been taking place, most recently in Long Island, New York and Fort Lauderdale. To find the latest news and updates, visit, www.irishlobbyusa.org

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