Category: Archive

Inside File: When love of country isn’t quite enough

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Besides, along with a walking companion, John was meandering a bit, not quite sure at this precise moment where the next act in the day’s drama was to be played out.
He knew the where, but not exactly how to get to it.
Washington D.C. can be a bit like that, especially on an early summer scorcher after most of your life was spent in the breezy Irish midlands.
It’s all those intersecting avenues: Constitution, Louisiana, New Jersey.
And that’s just in this neck of the Capitol Hill woods.
John’s passion, outlined in a low-key manner and quiet speaking voice, was all about living and working in the United States of America, his home for the past six years.
His desire to stay in America had brought him to the nation’s capital with hundreds of fellow undocumented Irish on a day when it might have been wiser to stay closer to home.
Violent deluges had turned much of the North East and mid-Atlantic region into a leafier version of the Everglades.
Washington had taken a particularly hard hit to the point that a venerable tree had almost gate crashed the front door of the nearby White House.
But the foot soldiers of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform had made the journey anyway. They had arrived in buses from Boston, New York, Philadelphia and other points. They had flown in by air from as far away as San Francisco.
John was bringing up the rear of one of the ILIR lobbying platoons that had spent the morning and early part of the afternoon exploring the halls of Senate and House office buildings in search of friend, foe and neutral — if there could be such a person when the legislative issue up for discussion was white-hot immigration reform.
In addition to all the avenues, the platoons had navigated their way through great cavernous buildings bearing the names of Russell, Dirksen, Hart, Rayburn, Longworth and Cannon.
So a little momentary disorientation was to be expected what with the thermometer rubbing up against 90 and the humidity level bordering on Amazonian.
Wisely, a member in the vanguard of John’s platoon stopped a crisply suited native and asked for directions.
With the location of the Holiday Inn confirmed, the rest of the walk was spent in conversation, most of it with John describing what it’s like to an undocumented Irish immigrant, 2006 version.
John had spent the morning knocking on the doors of congressional offices. Some of the stops had been little more than courtesy calls on the converted, but John’s group had made a particular point of calling at the offices of legislators who were hostile to the kind of comprehensive reform that is envisioned by the likes of Ted Kennedy and John McCain.
By his own description, some of the encounters with polite but edgy staffers sounded a bit like trying to sell statues of the Child of Prague — in Mecca.
Simply put, some of the elected inhabitants of offices visited by John’s unit were of the round ’em up and ship ’em out persuasion.
Given his age, his “Legalize The Irish.org” t-shirt and his very reason for being in the nation’s capital at this time, John might as well have worn a “Kiss me I’m (illegal) Irish” badge.
Here, not all that far from the headquarters of the Department of Homeland Security and its various immigration enforcement arms, John was an Irish Daniel in a lion’s den.
The lions never showed, however. Perhaps it was the heat.
John’s love for America, and his evident joy at being able to live in the country — granted, on a nervy day-to-day basis — was tempered by the fact that he cannot leave without facing a severe risk of not being able to get back in.
John is a prisoner of sorts. At least the exercise yard is a fair size. But even three million square miles doesn’t make up for the loss of the simple freedom of being able to hop on a plane and go see the ma and da for a few days.
Sure he could pack it in and move back to Ireland.
But it’s the thing about immigrants in this country. They tend not to be the pack-it-in sort. Ergo, neither is the nation wrought by more than four hundred years of immigrant hands.
It’s lousy being undocumented.
So of course it was worth the shoe leather, the energy and the time. And at least Dirksen, Russell and the rest had air conditioning.
Out here in the hot sun there was less time for cool rumination. Where was the Holiday Inn, the promised oasis for the ILIR rally?
A corner turned and there was the very place.
The rally itself was upbeat, loud and charged.
It had to be. Not to go on about Churchill but in dark times you need a few finest hours.
And the couple spent at the rally were just enough to give all present enough hope to carry the battle through the summer and into the high election season of the fall.
Three U.S. senators and four members of the House of Representatives turned up. There was a cross-party, cross-border delegation from Ireland. There was music, singing, clapping. There was, at the end of it all, something still to fight for.
But these are testing times for the undocumented Irish. They stand up and speak for themselves yet remain hostages to the fortunes of others. Reform isn’t all about the undocumented Irish. If the case it would be a simple matter because the numbers would barely prompt a zephyr on a drowsy Washington afternoon.
The Irish are falling between two stools in a way. But somehow they have carved out space between eleven million illegals of others nationalities and a jittery Congress.
There was a lot of talk in the Holiday Inn about how special America was. And of course this was true. It would have been an empty room if people thought otherwise.
But the room was full to the point that two extra overflow rooms had to be employed.
They were full of words, singing and applause, full of hopes and dreams hanging in murky suspension, not unlike the haze blanketing the beloved America’s capital on a torrid early summer’s day.

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