In a statement, San Francisco-based Murphy said that while comprehensive immigration reform would be welcome, the “best hope of fixing this issue” lay in a bilateral immigrant visa deal between the U.S. and Ireland.
Murphy has been outspoken in the past on what he sees as failures on the part of government in both countries to regularize Irish immigration to America.
He serves on the board of directors of the San Francisco Irish Immigration and Pastoral Center, is past president and a member of the board of the national Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers, and also sits on the advisory board of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform.
In his statement, Murphy noted that Ireland was “bananas” over President Barack Obama.
“The pasts and futures of Ireland and America are intertwined, and on so many different levels. So intertwined that it is interesting to ponder the irony that if today’s restrictive anti-Irish immigration laws were in place in 1850, Falmouth Kearney, Barack’s great, great grandfather, would never have left Moneygall for Ohio and the United States would not now have its first Irish-African-American president,” Murphy said.
But with Obama’s election, Murphy stated, it was time “to renew the effort to solve this puzzle, not just on a ‘once-off’ basis as before, but to create a sustainable and long term solution.”
Of comprehensive immigration reform, Murphy opined that with increasing U.S. unemployment and an economy in tatters, there may be little political appetite in Washington “to legalize an army of undocumented workers to compete with the already unemployed.”
Murphy, in his statement, was dismissive of the recently expanded J1 visa program which allows up to 20,000 Irish college students and recent graduates to gain work experience in the U.S.
“The visa is for a period of only one year and cannot be renewed. The J1 visa is widely viewed as too restrictive, unwieldy and of absolutely no use to the Irish undocumented. Although of some temporary benefit to a few, it is not a viable solution to the Irish-U.S. immigration issue and it is intellectually dishonest to hold it out as such.” Murphy said.
The best hope of “fixing this issue once and for all,” he said, would be the successful negotiation of a bilateral treaty visa between Ireland and the U.S. along the lines of the Australian E3 visa that dates back to 2005.
“It is precisely here that the Irish government, through the department of foreign affairs and its embassy in Washington, needs to prioritize its efforts,” Murphy stated.
“The Australian model creates a dedicated category of 10,500 work visas per annum with spouses and children not counted against the cap.
“The visa lasts for two years duration but is renewable indefinitely. Whilst it may or may not be of direct benefit to the undocumented Irish (rabbits have been pulled out of the hat before), it does provide a sensible and sustainable path forward.”
Murphy said that the system of Irish immigration to the U.S. has been broken since 1965.
“For over forty four years,” he said, “it has been nothing short of a haphazard, sporadic mess that, every now and then, has been temporarily tidied up by once-off fixes such as the Donnelly and Morrison visa programs.”
As laudable as comprehensive reform might be, he argued, it too would be just a one-time fix.
“Even if it comes to pass, it is no substitute for a proper and sustainable system of Irish-U.S. migration. Successful negotiation of an Irish E3 visa is the way forward. Let us hope our leaders in Ireland and the U.S. have the conviction and moral courage to push for change, to fix an old, broken system and truly embrace the history and accomplishments of our two countries,” he concluded.
It was Murphy who led the angry response last year to remarks made by then taoiseach Bertie Ahern who, on his St. Patrick’s Day visit to Washington, poured cold water on prospects of visas for the undocumented Irish while suggesting that they might want to think about packing their bags and returning to Ireland.
Said Ahern: “The concept of an amnesty, wiping the sheet clean, is just not on. They are talking from a position of sitting in the bar, and talking nonsense.”
Ahern’s words prompted the angry riposte from Murphy.
“With these comments made whilst standing on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C. on Saint Patrick’s afternoon and with all the subtlety of a head-butt, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern turned his government’s back on supporting recent proposals put forward by the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform for a U.S.-Ireland bilateral visa program,” was the lead line in an op-ed penned by Murphy and published in the Irish Echo.