Committees from both the Senate and House of Representatives are planning further hearings over the coming weeks.
Senate hearings that have already taken place in both Philadelphia and Miami were attended by members of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform while a Senate Judiciary Committee session, scheduled for Washington today, will be addressed by various reform advocates including ILIR chairman Niall O’Dowd.
The hearings are designed to bolster two sharply contrasting bills, the Senate’s bipartisan immigration reform version that includes a path to earned legalization and the House bill, which focuses entirely on border security and does not offer relief to illegals.
But while the talking goes on, advocates for the undocumented Irish are increasingly worried that the lack of an agreed bill from Congress is going to mean more Irish giving up on their American dream and quitting the country.
“People are doing a lot of soul searching and looking for a silver lining. But in the current situation it is a very tough search,” said Siobhan Dennehy, executive director of Emerald Isle Immigration Center in Queens.
There were indications last week that President Bush was prepared to be flexible with regard to his desire for a temporary worker visa program and a path to earned legalization for some undocumented.
The intention behind the president’s willingness to give ground would be to secure an agreed immigration bill before midterm elections in November.
But the widely viewed implication was that the president would have to concede ground to House Republicans who are forcefully arguing for full control of the nation’s borders, and for the departure from the U.S. of millions of undocumented and illegal immigrants before any of them have a chance of becoming eligible to apply for legal residence.
Various newspaper reports stated that it would take at least two years before House critics of reform would be satisfied that the borders were secure.
That would be two years too long for many undocumented Irish, some of whom have been living in the shadows for a decade or more.
The Senate hearings, meanwhile, have reflected the pro-reform position. The first was convened in Philadelphia last week by Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter and was attended by Senator Edward Kennedy, a stanch proponent of earned legalization, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Bloomberg told the hearing that New York’s economy would collapse if undocumented and illegal immigrants were deported in large numbers.
“The same holds true for the nation,” Bloomberg, who is to visit Ireland at the end of this month, said.
The Philadelphia hearing was attended by locally based Irish reform advocates as well as ILIR representatives from New York dressed in the now familiar Legalize the Irish t-shirts.
An ILIR delegation also attended a hearing in Miami Monday convened by the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The hearing, designed to highlight the contribution of immigrants to the U.S. military, heard testimony from General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and whose father was an Italian immigrant.
Pace was not the only soldier in the room with strong immigrant credentials.
Dubliner Michael Corridan served with the U.S. Marines in the first Gulf War, Somalia and Yugoslavia.
Now his uniform of choice is a Legalize the Irish.Org t-shirt.
Corridan, who secured legality in America by way of a Donnelly visa, described the Miami meeting as very positive.
“General Pace got very emotional and the looks on the faces of some of the senators was priceless,” said Corridan.
The senators in the room included Democrat Ted Kennedy and Republican John McCain, prime movers behind the Senate bill.
Tom, an undocumented immigrant from Tipperary, and who lives in New York, also attended the Miami hearing.
“It went very well. We gave out a lot of our t-shirts and flyers and McCain thanked us for being there, Tom, who was planning to attend today’s Washington hearing, told the Echo.
Lisa Handley, a Morrison visa winner who became a U.S. citizen some years ago and who is the ILIR organizer in Florida, said that some of the t-shirt clad Irish arrived late at the hearing, but this turned out positively.
“They were locked outside but the press started asking them questions and they were able to explain that the Irish are among the undocumented too,” Handley, who is from Dublin, said.
Handley said that she was attempting to attract more legal Irish to the ILIR campaign.
“We need more green card holders on board,” she said.
Handley’s reasoning was simple. Many Irish in Florida were unable to travel long distances to attend ILIR rallies or congressional hearings.
“It’s because they are undocumented and afraid to fly,” she said.