By Ray O’Hanlon
The undocumented, Irish and otherwise, have a number of problems to deal with on a daily basis.
Now they must deal with the problem of being compared to World Trade Center terrorist Mohammed Atta.
Atta’s picture is emblazoned on a “Dear Colleague” letter currently circulating in the House of Representatives and which is aimed at turning back an effort to temporarily restore immigration provision 245i.
The provision allows the undocumented to apply for legal residence while remaining in the U.S. and so avoiding the three- and 10-year bans from the U.S. that most of the long-term undocumented face under current immigration laws.
It was extended by the Clinton administration for four months, until the beginning of May 2001. Supporters in Congress, however, felt that more time was needed to accommodate the large number of undocumented who wanted to avail of its relief, hence the efforts to further extend its legislative life.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
But the events of Sept. 11 have pushed 245i beyond the bounds of the immigration debate and into the broader reaches of the national security issue.
Atta’s mugshot tops a letter distributed in recent days by California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and is accompanied by the headline “Welcome Citizen?”
The attention-grabbing top to the letter is not entirely surprising. Rep. Rohrabacher, a Republican based in Huntington Beach, was a journalist before entering Congress for the first time in 1988.
In the letter, Rep. Rohrabacher describes the 245i “amnesty” as a “national security risk and a loophole for terrorists.”
“I can understand why in the past these fears might have seemed exaggerated, but given the recent terrorist attacks on our country, how can we even discuss extending this program?” Rohrabacher said in his letter.
Rohrabacher wants the checking of applicants for legalization to be carried out at U.S. consulates in the individual’s native country.
Consular officers were in the best position to determine if an applicant had a criminal background or was some kind of national security risk, Rohrabacher argued in his letter, which was dated Nov. 14.
“Any of the September 11th hijackers would have been eligible to find a sponsor or marry a citizen, pay $1,000 and apply for legal status under 245i. . . . We have no excuse to continue with our disastrous immigration policies,” Rohrabacher concluded while asking his House colleagues to reject H.R. 1885, the House bill that proposes an extension of 245i until April 30, 2002.
Rep. Rohrabacher is not alone in distributing letters in the House of Representatives hostile to 245i’s restoration. Similar documents have been circulated in recent days by Rep. Elton Gallegly of California, Nathan Deal of Georgia, and Tom Tancredo of Colorado.
Tancredo chairs a group calling itself the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus. The caucus is opposed to continuation of not just 245i, but also of the Schumer diversity visa program.
Coincidentally, the 245i bill was up for a final House vote on the morning of Sept. 11 but the closure of Congress in the days after the terrorist attacks placed it, and many other issues, on the backburner.
It was expected to come up for a vote under the so-called House suspension rule in the immediate aftermath of Thanksgiving but failed to make an appearance.
Supporters of 245i from both parties argue that is it not an amnesty as applicants must have legitimate family ties or a job in the U.S.
However, the national security issue now being raised potentially places 245i in an entirely different context.
Under House rules, a bill that comes up for a vote under suspension rules is generally deemed non-controversial and one that is expected to pass quickly with little debate and no amendments.
H.R. 1885 was cast in that mold until Sept. 11. It had passed the House and had been boosted by a similar measure approved by the U.S. Senate. It had also been given an approving nod by the Bush administration.
The Sept. 11 voice vote in the House of Representatives was expected to be the quick, final act. But it wasn’t to be.