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Irish Voice News
Irish Undocumented Cautiously Optimistic
May 24, 2007
By April Drew
AS the Senate passed a procedural vote (69 to 23) on Monday to pave the way for a debate on the immigration bill proposed by a bipartisan group of senators and the White House, members of the Irish undocumented community were upbeat and positive about the upcoming few weeks. The Irish Voice went out to the community to hear the reaction on the new deal proposed by lawmakers.
Dermot Byrne, living in Yonkers for the past 17 years, is married to Eileen and they have a son Brian. Byrne told the Irish Voice on Monday he is hopeful a bill will emerge from the Senate at the end of next week.
“There is certainly a lot of negativity out there at the moment. I was listening to the radio all day and several members of the Senate were saying that the guest worker program should be done away with and that they should first introduce a bill to secure the borders and then reintroduce a bill that deals with the issue of the undocumented already here. But I’m hopeful that Kennedy will sway some of them in our direction. He definitely has a strong say,” said Byrne.
Christine Meehan and her husband Michael from Donegal are living under the radar in Yonkers for the past four years. “We were delighted with the news last week that a deal had been struck and we will remain confident that it will come out of the Senate and then that a deal will be reached in the House also,” said Christine.
The Meehans are prepared to wait in the U.S. until they can obtain a visa. “If it takes another two years that’s fine, we’ll definitely wait. I think if we know something is going to come out then it will be worth it,” she said.
Mary Brennan also living in Yonkers with roots in Kerry has been calling the U.S. home for the past 17 years.
“I think it’s a great deal for Irish people. A few things need to be ironed out in the next few days but to date it’s a good bill,” she said.
“The American people have spoken in the polls saying the immigration debate is a big issue and needs to get sorted this year. They understand the broken system and the need for it to be fixed,” said Brennan. “I’m feeling confident about the House too but I’m going to take one step at a time.”
Mags O’Brien, who has been living in Connecticut since 1998, sees the deal reached by the Senate last week as a stepping-stone in the right direction.
“I definitely think the bill to date is probably not what we wanted originally, but it’s certainly going in the right direction. Hopefully this time it will happen for us. We were so close the last time,” she said.
Seamus Ryan, in the U.S. nine years, is impressed that President George W. Bush stuck to his guns back in 2000 when he mentioned immigration reform as part of his political platform.
“He is strongly voicing his opinion to get immigration reform through by the end of this year,” said Ryan, who believes the current deal is very progressive and long overdue.
“If it goes through in its present form I feel that there is a lot of justice being served as well,” said Ryan referring to September 11. “A lot of us are still here since 9/11 and we dusted ourselves down after it happened and we went about our business the same way and we stuck to the program. Because that happened immigrants have been victimized ever since.”
Ryan remains upbeat about a bill coming out of the Senate but feels the House will be more “polarized to the left and the right.” He feels that a “happy medium” is necessary in the House so they can work together and pass a bill by the end of the summer.
Mary Folan from Galway, who emigrated to the U.S. in 1996, was optimistic about a bill passing the Senate in June but had her reservations about the House negotiations.
“I’m slightly worried about the House because Nancy Pelosi has asked Bush to guarantee her 70 Republican votes before she will even debate the issue. I am convinced, however, that the Senate will agree and pass a bill,” said Folan.
Steve Sweeney from Kerry, who has been living in the United States for ten years and was a volunteer at Ground Zero in the aftermath of September 11, spoke to the Irish Voice as he held his breath on Monday watching the vote in the Senate on whether or not to debate the bill on C-Span.
“As I’m sitting there watching the vote on whether or not to debate the bill I’m positive,” said Sweeney. “I feel they have little choice now but to pass immigration reform once and for all and this is the year to get it done. We are certainly in a better position than we were anyway this time last year,” said Sweeney, who was relieved when the Senate got more than the required 60 votes to allow debate on the issue.
Deirdre Hickey, living in New York with her husband John since 1996, is “very glad and excited” to see a deal come to the floor of the Senate.
“This deal really means that comprehensive immigration reform is finally on its way to President Bush’s desk to be signed in August! We’ve still got a ways to go, but we’re in it for the long haul and this deal has acted like a springboard for the debate as a whole.
“We have been working towards this for the last 17 months and I’m delighted that we are witnessing the start of the real debate,” said Hickey, originally from Dublin.
Samantha Melia and her husband Liam have been living in the shadows for seven years. “I’m really hopeful and happy with the new immigration deal. If we end up getting a Z-visa, that’s as good as any letter in the alphabet to me. It’s very workable!” she said.
“The $5,000 over five years is doable and it’s a way for the Irish to get legal. I’m extremely enthusiastic about it, in fact I think we will be made legal this year and I have faith in Congress and the Senate that they will pass a bill sooner rather than later.”
The Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR) remains positive that an immigration bill will come out of the Senate. Kelly Fincham, executive director of ILIR told the Irish Voice on Monday that the organization will be “watching the weeks ahead with vested interest.”
Fincham, who was pouring through the 326 pages of the comprehensive bill with a fine toothcomb, said she is in contact on a daily basis with key representative’s and senator’s offices in an effort to keep the pressure on.
“We want to ensure them that the ILIR are supporting Senator Kennedy and his efforts to bring about immigration reform,” she said.
Fincham added that it was clear from the interview Kennedy did with the Boston Globe last week that he is very grateful for the key role the Irish have played in the immigration debate. Fincham said if it weren’t for the hard work from the multitude of ILIR chapters around the state and country none of this would be possible.
“The ILIR would like to thank everyone who have been involved to date because it’s been a tremendous effort and hopefully this week will bear fruit,” she said.
Chairman of ILIR Niall O’Dowd testified in front of the House subcommittee on immigration on Tuesday, May 22. “The invitation to testify before the House immigration subcommittee proves that the ILIR and the voices of Irish America are being heard in this national debate,” explained Fincham.
Behind the scenes, ILIR volunteers are still hard at work making phone calls to various politicians and several fundraising events are being arranged throughout the summer. The Queens based ILIR committee is planning a big fundraiser night in the Courtyard in Queens on Saturday, June 9.
Kate and Ian Hickey from Dublin and Beverly Stafford based in Mayo have volunteered to help distributed ILIR t-shirts throughout Ireland. The Hickeys and Stafford have family members here in the US who are currently undocumented.
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