The reemergence into prominence of the Irish Immigration Reform Movement is both timely and welcome. The IIRM’s idea of as many as 50,000 “transitional visas” for applicants from Northern Ireland and the border counties of the Republic is a constructive suggestion against the backdrop of broad-based efforts to stimulate the peace process through enhanced economic development. The move also rightly brings into focus the need for legislators in Washington to turn their collective attention to positive ideas that will work to the advantage of the United States at a time when the attitude of many in Congress toward immigration strongly resembles a knee with an acute case of the jerks.
The question currently facing anti-immigration forces in Congress is simple. Since when did the United States not benefit from immigration, Irish or otherwise, temporary or permanent? The answer is never. On that basis, the IIRM proposal deserves immediate and serious attention. And it looks like some legislators, Rep. Jim Walsh to the fore, are doing just that.
There has been some suggestion that labor might be fearful of an influx of eager Irish. But the numbers spread over five years are not that high in an overall U.S. context. And if anything, the present strong economy and low unemployment rate would appear to indicate a demand for scarce labor. Besides, the IIRM suggestion, at this juncture, is for non-immigrant visas. Young people would be able to work in the U.S. for up to five years, giving the country the benefit of their energy, skills and enthusiasm, while after that period they would return to Ireland to spread the benefits derived from working in the world’s leading economy and business marketplace. Perhaps, if the proposal takes flight and is seen to be successful, it could in time be amended to accommodate at least some of the participants who might be inclined to devote a life’s labor to the United States, just as millions of Irish have done in the past.
In another context, the IIRM faces an immediate challenge in battling the harsh legal penalties currently facing long-term undocumented immigrants, not a few of whom would love to secure permanent residence through the Schumer visa program, but who, because of current regulations, are unable to do so because it would necessitate leaving the U.S. and facing exclusion from the country for either three or 10 years. One way or another, the IIRM has its work cut out. But that is, for it, an entirely familiar situation.