Category: Archive

Editorial We’re watching, Senator

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Last Tuesday in Washington, a major visa initiative was unveiled. If approved by both houses of Congress, it will create 50,000 working visas over five years for young, unskilled people who hail from disadvantaged areas of Northern Ireland. The program would enable the visa holders to avail themselves of job opportunities in the U.S., in the process learning valuable skills that, it is hoped, they will later use to help regenerate the Northern economy.

It was another moment of triumph for the Irish Immigration Reform Movement, which spearheaded the effort, and for Rep. Jim Walsh, the Republican who will now try to navigate the bill through the House of Representatives. It was also, it seems, a triumph of sorts for the Senate sponsor, Al D’Amato, which itself is too bad.

D’Amato, as all New Yorkers know, has a bloodhound’s nose for the spotlight. In this case, surrounded by the assembled media of two nations, he basked in a light meant for another.

The senator from Long Island is now being entrusted to push a bill that he had absolutely no hand in crafting. That’s bad enough. But there’s something even worse. Indeed, the man who, in addition to Walsh, played the most important role in shaping this bill is someone whom D’Amato may be facing in his reelection bid later this year: Brooklyn Democratic Rep. Charles Schumer. Schumer, not surprisingly, opted out of the ceremony to introduce the bill. D’Amato, also not surprisingly, couldn’t.

D’Amato’s presence on the dais last week was little more than political chicanery. Unlike Schumer, he has never been at the forefront of immigration reform. His record on the issue is mixed at best. He voted, for example, for the Morrison Visas in 1990, but more recently he backed efforts to restrict benefits for legal immigrants.

Schumer, on the other hand, has, year after year, been a true and loyal friend to immigrants from Ireland and elsewhere. It hasn’t been forgotten that his inspired and tenacious leadership has been a critical factor in the success of a number of immigration initiatives over the years.

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Are New Yorkers, then, witnessing yet another election-year conversion from its junior senator? Will D’Amato’s support for this visa bill be genuine or will the issue simply provide him with more fodder for his campaign literature?

Irish-American voters in New York are an astute lot. They’ll know if D’Amato is pushing hard to get this bill passed. Rest assured, Senator, we’ll be watching.

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