Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform

By Debbie McGoldrick and Georgina Brennan, Contributors
Febuary / March 2006

The newly formed Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR) is galvanizing support for the undocumented as it plans an all-out effort on the critical issue of immigration reform.

The lobby group created by The Irish Voice newspaper will advocate on behalf of the estimated twenty to thirty thousand undocumented Irish living in the U.S.

“We don’t want to be in the shadows,” said Malcolm, an undocumented immigrant from Northern Ireland, who was one of the many who turned up for the inaugural meeting of the lobby, which was held at the Affinia Hotel, in Manhattan on December 9.

The meeting was chaired by Irish Voice founding publisher Niall O’Dowd and addressed by two influential members of the pro-immigration lobby, former Congressman Bruce Morrison, who created the visa program bearing his name that granted 48,000 green cards to Irish citizens in the early 1900s, and Esther Olavarria, general counsel to Senator Edward Kennedy on immigration.

“Unless we actually address the issue full square, tonight and onwards, we’re not going to be included in the new legislation, O’Dowd told the audience.

Congressman Peter King (R. NY), who has long been viewed as a friend of the Irish, came in for some heavy criticism over his sponsorship of a bill that would criminalize undocumented aliens, making them subject to jail sentences if it was discovered that they were working without permits.

A bill introduced by Senator Kennedy and his Republican colleague John McCain, is more favorable to immigrants.

Speaking on behalf of Senator Kennedy, Esther Olavarria explained that “Anyone who was in the country on the date of the bill’s introduction on May 12, 2005, would be eligible to come forward and register with the Department of Homeland Security, pay a $1,000 fee, and go through a background check. And once that happened the person would then be eligible for a work permit.”

Since the 1990s there has been no immigration reform lobby group representing Irish people; with the formation of ILIR, the community is confident that though the battle is uphill, they will fight hard.

“I’m not running from anything in Ireland,” said one member of the audience, “and I don’t want to be running away from here. I want to stay and I am going to work to stay. That is why I came here tonight. We will save ourselves.” ♦

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