Category: Archive

Echo Focus: Ready to fight

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform is presenting itself as a rallying point for Irish-American organizations as the argument on both sides of the immigration issue intensifies in Washington.
That argument is set to take a big step forward this week with a vote on one particularly contentious bill expected in the House of Representatives Thursday.
The inaugural ILIR gathering, at the Affinia Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, was addressed by a number of Irish community leaders as well as former congressman Bruce Morrison and Esther Olivarria, Sen. Edward Kennedy’s general counsel on immigration.
The message delivered to the standing room only crowd in the hotel’s Clinton Room was that the situation for the undocumented Irish was dire, the news from Washington was not especially encouraging, and that the Capitol Hill battle for immigration reform looked like being over in a matter of months – though it was now destined to take form against the always unpredictable backdrop of a mid-term congressional election year.
“It would be a shame to have a battle on immigration reform and have the Irish missing from action,” Morrison, whose efforts in Congress 15 years ago resulted in the Morrison Visa program, told the gathering.
The arrival on the scene of ILIR, the name of which carried clear echoes of the Irish Immigration Reform Movement, is intended to galvanize Irish American opinion behind the bipartisan McCain/Kennedy immigration reform bill that is now before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
That bill has already been endorsed by an all-party motion in the D_il and is generally viewed as being the nearest thing on Capitol Hill right now to a comprehensive reform measure.
By contrast, there were expressions of deep concern at the meeting over a House bill due for a vote Thursday.
The Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, or H.R. 4437, is jointly authored by GOP Reps. James Sensenbrenner and Peter King.
Sensenbrenner is the named author of what is being dubbed “Sensenbrenner/King” – this being an indication of the fact that the measure includes in its entirety a separate King proposal, the Border Security and Prevention of Terrorism Act of 2005.
H.R. 4437 deals exclusively with border security and anti-terrorism measures, but its potential effects are seen as spreading far and wide into the undocumented population.
Attorney Eamonn Dornan, speaking from the floor during the ILIR meeting, described the King/Sensenbrenner bill as “absolutely despicable” and the most “oppressive” piece of legislation he had ever seen.
Prior to the meeting, Dornan told the Echo that the scope of the bill went “way beyond” any special powers ever passed by the British in Northern Ireland and that its effect would be to “criminalize” not just every undocumented immigrant but could result in jail terms for Americans who aided the undocumented.
Bruce Morrison warned that the bill would actually divert resources from combating crime and terrorism.
Describing the bill as “insane,” Morrison said that berating Rep. King, who had been a friend of the Irish for many years, would be the wrong thing to do.
Irish Americans, Morrison said, “should help [King] differentiate between real security and phony security.”
Helping members of Congress to do the same thing would require considerable effort, the meeting was told.
Publisher Niall O’Dowd, who chaired the meeting, said that it was time to rebuild the “political clout” that had been so evident in the Irish American community during the IIRM years.
Esther Olivarria, who briefed the meeting in detail on various bills being pondered on Capitol Hill, warned that the Sensenbrenner/King proposal did indeed have within its scope the potential to criminalize the undocumented.
She said that the bill had passed the House Judiciary Committee on a party line vote. Rep. Sensenbrenner is chairman of that committee.
Bruce Morrison said he was “sorry to be have to be here for this battle.”
Outlining the need for comprehensive immigration reform, Morrison said that while “everything in the ’90s was about enforcement,” during this period “the number of people out of status had gone up faster than anytime in our history.”
Morrison described the Sensennbrenner/King bill as “mean spirited and anti- immigrant.”
With the IIRM, he said, the Irish-American community had spoken with one voice and this was now needed again.
“We need to be organized and a part of this political fight,” he said.
Being organized, said Niall O’Dowd, would necessitate the involvement of different groups and organizations and the meeting heard pledges of support from representatives of several, including the GAA and the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
Michael Glass of the AOH told the gathering that the Hibernians would be “pulling out all the stops” for comprehensive reform while New York GAA president, Seamus Dooley, indicated that his organization was also ready to help.
Getting the ILIR message out, the meeting was told, would be aided by the setting up of a website, irishlobbyusa.org.
In the aftermath of the meeting, and given the trenchant criticism aimed in his direction, the Echo contacted Rep. King and relayed the concerns expressed over his bill.
King said that his House Homeland Security Committee was concerned with border security alone, while Rep. Sensenbrenner’s area of concern stretched into the interior of the country because of his chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee.
With regard to H.R. 4377, King said that the decision was made that there was “real concern” in the country that control over the borders had been lost. This was particularly the case with the Southern border with Mexico.
“This is not an anti-immigrant policy,” King said of the bill.
“The intention is to get a bill that shows we can get control of the borders and then after two or three months the Senate will add guest worker proposals,” King said.
King stressed that he was not fundamentally opposed to immigration, or the idea of “earned legalization” for undocumented immigrants as contained in the McCain/Kennedy Senate bill.
“But this is not the same as the 1980s. It has changed since the IIRM days because of terrorism and the numbers of illegals,” he said.
“Let’s get the law enforcement part debated first. There is a crisis and there is concern over the borders. At the same time I don’t see any antagonism towards immigration,” King said.

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese