26 January 2006

Dublin gets behind ILIR

Irish Echo

By Ray O'Hanlon

The Irish government this week stepped more forcefully into America's immigration reform debate when it announced a grant of €30,000 to aid the work of the recently formed Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform.

In dollar terms, Dublin's allocation comes to roughly $36,000 at current exchange rates.

The money comes as ILIR is readying a series of meetings in three east coast urban areas designed to drum up support for the McCain/Kennedy immigration bill, one of several significant proposals already written, or in the pipeline, on Capitol Hill.

Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern announced the grant in Dublin.

The grant, according to an Irish government statement, was a further indication of its "strong support" for measures that would grant legal residence status to undocumented Irish living in the U.S.

The move follows passage several months ago of an all-party resolution in the Dáil expressing support for the McCain/Kennedy Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act, a measure that includes a possible path to legalization for undocumented immigrants.

"The ILIR has been established at a particularly critical time in the U.S. as the legislative debate on this issue enters an important phase," Ahern said in announcing the grant.

"In my own visits to the U.S. I have expressed the Irish government's strong support for this [McCain/Kennedy] bill.

"The positive initiative taken by Senators McCain and Kennedy in the U.S. Senate, mirrored by representatives Kolbe, Flake and Gutierrez in the House of

Representatives, would enable undocumented Irish people to participate in the life of their adopted country, free from fear and uncertainty," Ahern added.

Kelly Fincham, ILIR's executive director, welcomed the announcement.

"This is a fantastic recognition of the work being done by ILIR and we are delighted that the Irish government has chosen to fund us at this critical time," Fincham said.

"It is this type of strong support from Ireland which will help Irish Americans accomplish this task of legalizing thousands of undocumented Irish citizens," ILIR chairman Niall O'Dowd said.

There are various estimates as to the number of undocumented Irish currently in the U.S. ranging from a few thousand to as high as 50,000. ILIR uses 40,000 as its rough estimate.

ILIR's town hall-style meetings in support of McCain/Kennedy will get underway this Friday, Jan. 27 at Rory Dolan's in Yonkers.

It will be followed by a meeting in Philadelphia on Friday evening, Feb. 3 at the Hyatt Regency, Penn's Landing.

Tom Conaghan, who heads the Irish Pastoral and Immigration Center in the city, told the Echo that "quite a crowd" was expected to attend the event which would be free and open to all.

ILIR, meanwhile, is planning its first Boston meeting at Florian Hall, Dorchester on Thursday, Feb. 9, and additional meetings are now being planned for Queens in New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

The early February meetings in Philadelphia and Boston could coincide with the opening salvos of what promises to be a contentious debate in the U.S. Senate where the McCain/Kennedy bill is facing opposition in the form of the Sensenbrenner/King bill, a sharply diverging legislative package which has already passed the House of Representatives.

A third significant proposal has come from Sen. Arlen Specter who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee which must first approve any reform proposals before they reach the Senate floor for a vote.

Other bills could be added to the mix, meanwhile. A well-placed source said that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist could be adding a bill of his own crafting to the debate.

That debate revolves around several flashpoints, top among them being security and control at the nation's borders, a proposed guest worker program and the possible path to so-called "earned legalization," an idea that has been decried by some House and Senate members because, they argue, it amounts to an amnesty for the illegal and undocumented.

That the immigration system is in severe need of change is not a point of argument. How it ends up being changed will, however, raise both cheers and howls of indignation.

In a recent editorial headed "Immigration Vacuum," the New York Times made its view clear.

The Times excoriated the Sensenbrenner/King House bill as being "so draconian it sounds like something out of the Know-Nothing anti-Irish movement of 150 years ago."

The editorial stated that the bill was full of "extreme measures" such as 700 miles of fences on the Mexican border.

"But the worst part of the bill makes it a felony to shield or offer support to undocumented immigrants, even unknowingly. So what about the church group that provides shelter, no questions asked, or the woman who drives a neighbor to the store?"

The editorial pointed out that following an outcry, Rep. King said he hoped to amend the bill which he put together with Rep. Sensenbrenner.

"A better hope would be that it dies quietly and that the Senate finds a more reasonable way to untangle the immigration mess..." the Times editorial concluded.

This story appeared in the issue of January 25 - 31, 2006

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