With Democrats having captured both the House of Representatives and Senate, immigration reform advocates are raising their hopes that a comprehensive, bipartisan reform bill will begin to take shape as soon as the new Congress convenes in January.
A reform package that will include relief for thousands of undocumented Irish will require new bills in both the House and Senate and the kind of bipartisan input that was evident in the crafting of the McCain/Kennedy bill earlier this year.
One clear-cut supporter of a comprehensive approach is incoming senator Bob Casey from Pennsylvania. Casey withstood heavy criticism on the immigration issue from the man he defeated, Republican Rick Santorum.
President Bush, meanwhile, has indicated his willingness to support reform measures beyond just the securing of the nation’s porous borders and a bipartisan package that will not tempt his veto pen should now be a strong likelihood in 2007.
While Irish Americans parted ways politically at polling centers around the nation Tuesday, Irish American Republican and Democratic supporters will be expecting the new Congress to encourage a more cooperative atmosphere in a Northern Ireland that is this week poised between greater power sharing, or a continuation of the current stalemate.
The outgoing Congress provided more than a few interesting moments from an Irish American perspective, not least a divergence of opinion last St. Patrick’s Day between the Friends of Ireland grouping and the House Ad Hoc Committee for Irish Affairs.
A cooperative political climate in Northern Ireland should provide the opportunity for those on Capitol Hill concerned about progress in the North to enunciate a more agreed position a few months from now.
This will be made more likely still given that both the Friends and Ad Hoc groupings are in for a leadership shakeup following Tuesday’s vote.
While Friends chairman Jim Walsh won reelection in his upstate New York district, he will now be part of the GOP minority in the House and as such must relinquish his chairmanship.
Massachusetts Democrat Richie Neal, who ran unopposed in his district, is in line to take over the Friends leadership position.
This will create a vacancy at the top of the House Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs.
Neal is a Democratic co-chair of the committee along with New York’s Joe Crowley, who won reelection handily.
Another Ad Hoc co-chair, the GOP’s John Sweeney, lost his reelection bid and this will mean that his position will have to be filled by another Republican.
The decision as to who will replace Sweeney will largely fall into the lap of Rep. Peter King, the other Republican Ad Hoc co-chair who won reelection to the House in his Long Island district.
Meanwhile, Tuesday’s election saw Baltimore mayor Martin O’Malley, who wears his Irishness boldly on both sleeves, lay claim to the governorship of Maryland after a tough race against incumbent Republican Bob Ehrlich.
Senator Edward Kennedy easily secured his eighth term and will be poised for a committee chairmanship now that there is a confirmed Democratic majority in the 100-member Senate.