By Ray O’Hanlon
The congressional debate over homeland security is delaying progress on a bill that would see a limited return of immigration provision 245i.
The provision, which would allow eligible undocumented Irish immigrants to apply for legal status, was revived last month in a bill drawn up by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
But now the question is will the Senate will manage to find time to address the immigration issue before the July 4 break, or even by early August, when Congress goes into summer recess.
Consideration of the bill was being delayed as a result of debate over President Bush’s proposals to merge various federal agencies into a new government department dealing with homeland security, a congressional source said.
One way or another, 245i has had a hard time separating itself from the shadow of the national security issue.
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An earlier move to include a limited return of 245i in a congressional border security bill fell short when the provision was pulled from the legislation.
Backers, including Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, considered that version of 245i to be overly restrictive and one that would not allow enough time for eligible undocumented immigrants to properly apply for relief.
As the law currently stands, an undocumented immigrant has to leave the U.S. in order to have a chance of securing legal status.
But by leaving U.S. soil the undocumented individual faces a ban from the U.S. of as much as 10 years.
245i would lift the threat of such a ban from individuals who qualify for relief as a result of job skills or family ties.
The proposed revival of 245i — the measure lapsed from the legislative books in 1998 only to be briefly revived in the waning days of the Clinton administration — is contained in a Daschle bill called the United Families Act, 2002.
The bill is being backed in the Senate by a number of leading Irish-American legislators, among them Kennedy, chairman of the Sub-Committee on Immigration.
Kennedy has described 245i as a “vital provision of U.S. immigration law.”
But even being vital doesn’t guarantee an early vote in a Congress that has been drawn daily deeper into the issue of securing the nation’s borders in order to protect those living within them, the undocumented presumably included.