“It’s very welcome. The initial outline looks like something we can work with,” said Fr. Brendan McBride of the Irish Immigration and Pastoral Center in San Francisco.
“There’s a lot of undocumented Irish in San Francisco and though it’s difficult to get a precise number, I would say the total runs to a few thousand,” said McBride, who is president of the Irish Apostolate USA.
“Most of the undocumented in San Francisco have been here for more than five years and want to make their lives here,” he said.
McBride is well aware of the problems that the undocumented are facing everyday, not least the virtual impossibility of traveling back to Ireland and returning to the U.S.
“We had a recent case of a young woman whose sister had died in Ireland but she couldn’t fly back for the funeral,” he said.
Fr. McBride said the announcement of the Kennedy McCain bill had coincided with a campaign by the U.S. Bishops on behalf of undocumented illegal immigrants.
The views of the bishops, he said, could have a significant impact on the upcoming reform debate on Capitol Hill.
In Dublin, meanwhile, the bill was welcomed by Ireland’s foreign affairs minister Dermot Ahern.
“In my meetings with both Senator Kennedy and Senator McCain, and with other political leaders in Washington, I have been greatly encouraged by the strength of their commitment to immigration reform,” Ahern said in a statement.
“I now warmly welcome their important, timely and very positive contribution to advancing the debate on this sensitive issue. The priority now is for all concerned to intensify their lobbying in what is a difficult environment,” Ahern added.
“In this regard, I have consistently made it clear that for the ambassador and the embassy in Washington, and the staff of the consulates in the U.S., this issue has the highest priority.”
Fine Gael TD and spokesman on emigrant affairs, Paul Connaughton welcomed the bill but called for clarity on its details.
Connaughton, who recently led a party delegation to the U.S. and met with Kennedy and McCain, said he was “delighted” with the publication of the bill.
“The finer points of the legislation still need to be worked out, such as the rights of workers to come and go freely between the U.S. and Ireland,” the Mayo deputy said.
Nevertheless, Connaughton added, the bill was a “huge step forward” for the undocumented.