Category: Archive

Irish in America are ‘under siege’

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

“The facts are clear to us,” said Niall O’Dowd, chairman of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform. “Without immigration reform, the Irish-born
community in the United States will no longer exist and one of the greatest contributors to the success of this nation will be no more.”
Speaking as a witness before the U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration, O’Dowd said that the Irish undocumented community in the U.S. was “under siege” and that America would be the “big loser” should Irish immigrants have to return home.
“Our neighborhoods are disappearing, our community organizations are in steep decline. Our sporting and cultural organizations are deeply affected by the lack of legal emigration,” he said.
“The sad reality is that there is simply no way for the overwhelming majority of Irish people to come to the United States legally at present.”
Testifying before a sparsely attended committee that included Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, an avid supporter of the ILIR, O’Dowd told the hearing
that current immigration law would have prevented Kennedy’s ancestors from entering the country.
“If the Irish antecedents of Andrew Jackson, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan were trying to enter the United States today they would have to do so
illegally,” he said.
Praising the ILIR for their efforts, Kennedy said that prior immigration reform in the U.S. had unintentionally penalized the Irish.
“The way that the legislation was developed worked in a very dramatic and significant way against the Irish,” Kennedy said.
The hearing was the first opportunity for the ILIR, a New York-based grassroots organization that has dramatically raised the profile of the
undocumented Irish community in the U.S., to provide a formal presentation to senior U.S. lawmakers about the effects that living in the shadows has had on
the community.
“Their driver’s licenses will not be renewed which means mothers cannot drive their children to school. The day-to-day struggle of living illegally in America has taken a heavy personal toll on them. I submit that they deserve better,” O’Dowd said.
Under the glare of bright lights and against the whirr of digital cameras, O’Dowd sat at a long rectangular table in front of the imposing horseshoe-shaped committee table. A large clock with bright red numbers kept track of the five-minute speaking time allotted to each witness.
Scattered behind O’Dowd in the packed committee room on Capitol Hill were dozens of supporters, many of whom were undocumented, wearing the now-familiar green and white “Legalize the Irish” t-shirts.
They listened as other witnesses including Commerce Secretary Carlos Guitierrez, a native of Cuba and a naturalized citizen, testified that immigration was to the key to America’s future economic health.
“I have lost many things in my life – my wallet, my keys,” Guitierrez told the committee. “But I have never lost my passport. It is my most prized possession.”
Sitting in the back row of the room listening intently to the testimony was Bruce Decell, whose 28-year-old son-in-law, Mark Petrocelli, died in the north tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Wearing a photograph of his son-in-law on the lapel of his suit and holding a large framed photo of the twin towers, Decell had come to Washington D.C. to protest comprehensive immigration reform.
“If they’re going to amnesty in millions more illegal aliens, Americans are going to die. And I’m against it,” he said, offering a view held by many opponents of the Senate-backed bill.
One expert told the committee that illegal immigration jeopardized U.S. national security and that terrorists could exploit what he called a lax legal framework.
“When the United States provides an alien with resident alien status or when we naturalize an alien, we are providing him with the ‘keys to the kingdom,'” said Michael W. Cutler, a fellow with the Center for Immigration Studies.
But Steve McSweeney, a 32-year-old undocumented contractor from Ireland, said that he and other undocumented Irish had labored for years in America and that they were only asking for legal status.
“I believe I’ve given my fair share to America,” said McSweeney, who has lived illegally in the U.S. for nine years.
“I was one of the first respondents to Ground Zero. I spent nearly two weeks in hospital afterwards where I had a serious arm operation because I cut my arm back there,” he said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing was the latest in a series of hearings called by the House of Representatives and Senate amid fierce debate over how to address illegal immigration.
At stake is an immigration bill agreed by the U.S. Senate and backed by President George W. Bush that would provide a path to citizenship for the more than 11 million illegal immigrants currently living in the U.S. Senate lawmakers are under intense pressure to reach a compromise between this bill and a competing House bill that stresses strict border security.

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