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Editorial / Periscope - Niall O'Dowd
Time to Unite
March 19, 2008
By Niall O’Dowd
THE current standoff on the best way to pursue immigration reform between the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR) and the Irish government does not benefit either side. Most of all, it does not benefit the undocumented who are depending on ILIR in the U.S. and the Irish government to seek out a solution to their plight
Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern threw the cat among the pigeons this week when he accused Irish immigration advocates of seeking an unrealistic “amnesty” for the undocumented.
He effectively charged that the group “did not know what they are talking about.” He also accused immigration advocates of “sitting around in a bar and talking nonsense.”
It was strange statement from a taoiseach who has always displayed a sure touch when it came to this issue. Perhaps his remarks reflect a frustration with a problem that has become one of the most difficult to address in America today.
Ahern revived an unfortunate tendency of Irish government ministers to lecture Irish Americans on how they should think and act.
There is precious little reason for the Irish government to lecture. The issue of their undocumented citizens in America has percolated and festered since the 1980s without any satisfactory resolution, save for a few visa programs such as Donnelly and Morrison which were time limited.
As soon as they ended the illegal issue began to flare up again. Everyone should have done better than to allow the current situation to build up again.
The Irish American community has borne the brunt of the pressure on the issue, with many heartbreaking stories involving Irish citizens caught in the undocumented flytrap. Our community has always sought to respond in the best way possible.
Ahern surely knows that ILIR, which is the only major Irish group dealing with this issue, has never advocated an amnesty agenda. To do so would be counter productive in the extreme and, frankly, not politically attainable.
What ILIR has put forward is a solution based on a bilateral deal between the U.S. and Ireland which has been done successfully by other countries such as Australia, Chile and Singapore.
There are many different aspects to this approach, and obviously any deal for Ireland would not look exactly like the E-3 visas that Australia attained. However, the overall structure, that Ireland and the U.S. would have a reciprocal work visa program, would surely benefit both.
Ahern on Monday was clearly expressing frustration with the state of play on immigration matters, with a continued deadlock in Congress on immigration reform which has led to renewed questions about whether it can ever be achieved.
But the reality is that it must be addressed. ILIR and the Irish government together need to do so, and hopefully bring an end to a nightmare for yet another generation of Irish undocumented in the U.S.
Whether they can succeed is still unknowable. Few issues have created such tension in the broader political sphere in the U.S. than immigration.
Yet we can never lose sight of the thousands of Irish who are caught in this net in America, and the thousands of families at home who have no chance of seeing their children here any time soon.
Anyone who has dealt with this issue on the coalface knows how difficult the personal stories can be, and how heartbreaking many of them are.
Given that reality, disputes between the Irish government and ILIR pale in comparison. It is time for a united front to bring about immigration reform.
Anything less is a betrayal of those who need us most.
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