The group’s main thrust is to highlight the plight of the undocumented Irish in the U.S. and to secure passage of the McCain/Kennedy immigration reform bill in Congress, a measure that allows for a path to legalization for the undocumented.
“It’s really important that people turn out for these meetings as their presence sends a message that the Irish American community is concerned about immigration reform,” Kelly Fincham, ILIR’s executive secretary, said this week in a statement.
Fincham said the public meetings would form a key part of ILIR’s lobbying effort.
The first in what will be a series of countrywide meetings will be held in Rory Dolan’s in Yonkers on Friday, Jan. 27.
“This year is going to be do-or-die for the Irish. We have to ensure that we’re represented in Congress when they set about tackling immigration reform. We’ve got to make sure that the Irish don’t get left behind,” Fincham said.
“The meetings are a way of getting that message out while also giving people a chance to support the ILIR and learn what the issues are. We will also be showing people how they can help us lobby Congress, she added.
ILIR estimates that there are as many as 40,000 undocumented Irish in the U.S. at present. The Irish government estimates about 25,000 while some opposition politicians in Ireland have pointed to a figure as high as 50,000.
Meanwhile, the Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers has issued what it describes as “a strong warning to immigrants” to be cautious of individuals charging fees to file applications for green cards on behalf of applicants who are not eligible.
“Immigration legislation is pending in Congress but nothing has passed yet so there are no new visa programs. If you were not eligible before and your personal circumstances have not changed you should be cautious of anyone who tells you that some new program has come up. If you feel that you are the victim of a scam call your local immigrant center for help,” the coalition said in a statement.
“We have heard from a number of individuals who were charged thousands of dollars to file applications when they are clearly not eligible to apply” said Siobhan Dennehy, executive director of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center in Queens.
The EIIC is particularly appealing to anyone who may have been a client of Christine Owad, the New York woman who has been charged with acts of fraud and deception by the office Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.
Deenehy said that the EIIC had sought and received assurances from Spitzer that anyone who stepped forward to assist in this action would not face any unwarranted scrutiny from the Department of Homeland Security.
“We are positive that the attorney general will protect the confidences of any clients who wish to pursue compensation, and we encourage everyone who has been victimized to take up the attorney general’s offer,” Dennehy said.
The Coalition of Immigration Centers believes that the number of immigration scams is on the rise as undocumented and illegal immigrants become more and more desperate for relief in the face of more rigorous enforcement of immigration law and closer scrutiny at U.S. borders
In its statement, the coalition said that scams appeared to be on the increase with reports from Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Rhode Island.
Tom Conaghan, executive director of the Irish Immigration and Pastoral Center in Philadelphia, said that while some immigrants discover early that they are not eligible for a visa, others have traveled to their home country to pick them up.
“When they arrive at the embassy there will be no visa waiting, and they may face a three or ten year bar from re-entering the United States,” Conaghan said.
He added that he had spoken to immigrants who had paid $1,200 to apply for a supposed travel document, a deception which, he said, played on the feelings of people who are separated from family and friends.
Founded in 1996, the Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers is an umbrella organization of Irish immigrant advice centers around the U.S.
Its membership currently includes 15 centers in California, Pennsylvania, Washington State, Illinois, Washington, D.C., Maryland, New York, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin.