Category: Archive

Hundreds rally at Philly ILIR meet

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Between three and four hundred people gathered at the Hyatt Regency on Philadelphia’s waterfront on Friday, Feb. 3 — this despite rumors of an impending immigration raid, which organizers believe may have kept some away.
As with previous ILIR meetings, much emphasis was placed on the need to press area politicians on the need for immigration law broad enough to include the tens of thousands of undocumented Irish across the U.S.
The Philadelphia Irish community was well represented at the meeting with the Rev. Gerry Burns, Mike Nolan, AOH immigration liaison representing AOH President Ned McGinley, Geri Garvey, Irish Apostolate in Washington and Chuck Harvey, Local 98, Electrical Union, representing Union Leader and mayoral candidate John Dougherty.
Dr. Jack Worrall, professor of economics at Rutgers University, and past president of the Federation of Irish American Societies, chaired the event.
ILIR chairman Niall O’Dowd gave an impassioned talk about the group’s mission.
“We’re here with a message of hope. This is the first time in 15 years that immigration reform is being discussed in Congress. We have friends in high places; we have friends in Congress. Together we can change the laws.”
O’Dowd urged everyone in the room to become a member of ILIR and to sign up for a lobby day, March 8, in Washington, D.C.
He called on the Irish community to deluge the offices of Congressman Rick Santorum and Senator Arlen Specter with emails, voice mails and phone calls. “Senator Specter is waiting for your call, he just doesn’t know it yet,” he said, drawing a big laugh from the crowd.
“Now is the time to strike. We need to send a strong message on St. Patrick’s Day.”
Joe Hackett, first secretary at the Irish embassy in Washington said that immigration reform was a top priority with the Irish government.
He talked about the contributions of the Irish to the economic and social fabric of the United States, adding that despite this, “no community is as marginalized as much as the undocumented Irish in the United States. This is why everyone should be behind this bill.”
“The Irish voice needs to be heard. The Irish government needs all of you so that we can get this done together,” he said.
Kelly Fincham, executive director of ILIR, made the point that what the undocumented Irish in America want was not amnesty but earned legalization.
Tom Conaghan, president of the Federation of Irish American Societies and director of Philadelphia’s Irish Immigration and Pastoral Center, who hosted the event, said: “If we add our voices to the bigger voice, we’ll all get there together.”
Conaghan spoke about the difficulties the campaign was up against in the current political climate with the word “immigrant” being tossed around with the word “terrorist.”
Bill McLaughlin, president of the Irish American Business Chamber offered an interesting tidbit about President George Washington, who declared in a proclamation that we should celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day.
He, too, urged everyone present to be vocal saying, “They listen to the loudest voice.”
Grant Lally, the newly elected president of ILIR, joked about being the only Republican on the program.
On a more serious note, he stressed that immigration was a bipartisan issue while noting the number of prominent Republicans at the event, including Martin Gillespie, who was responsible for corralling the Catholic vote for President Bush’s reelection campaign.
Samantha, an undocumented immigrant from New York, put a human face on the debate.
She began her remarks with, “I have a degree in psychology and I work as a bartender. I have the same hopes and dreams as Irish immigrants before me.”
Her emotional delivery rocked the house. She was followed by an unidentified male undocumented immigrant who threw down the gauntlet with “Philadelphia, it’s time to stand up and be counted.”
And that will likely occur as another rally in Philadelphia is already being planned for a later date.

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