Despite mounting pessimism among immigration activists that time is running
out for the Senate backed reform bill, the mood in the Holiday Inn near
Capitol Hill was anything but somber as rally participants gathered in the
morning sunshine to prepare for their second congressional onslaught.
Wearing their trademark green and white “Legalize the Irish” t-shirts the
young undocumented Irish gave a boisterous welcome to rally organizers as
they took to the stage to warm up the crowd.
“You were the people who made the difference the last time. You’re going to
make the difference today. We know we have problems. This bill is stuck in
the house. But we’re going to send a message today on Capitol Hill –
‘Legalize the Irish’,” said Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform Chairman
Niall O’Dowd, to rapturous applause.
“Just show up. Just be there. The last time the effect was incredible,” he
told the crowd before they dispersed into 60 smaller groups to meet with
lawmakers on the Hill.
But despite the upbeat atmosphere, attendance was markedly lower than the
first ILIR rally last March which attracted nearly 3,000 immigrants. However
organizers were quick to point out that this event attracted participants
from a wider selection of states than the last rally, with participants
coming from as far as California, Florida, Ohio and Georgia.
In a move that proved how far reaching this issue has become, O’Dowd was
joined on stage by a cross-party delegation of Irish politicians who had
flown into Washington DC to lend support to the cause.
Sitting behind a giant green and white banner were Fianna Fail’s John Cregan
and Paschal Mooney, Fine Gael’s Paul Connaughton, Simon Coveney and Michael
Ring and P.J. Bradley from the SDLP. The largest cheer in the house was
reserved for Sinn Fein’s Sean Crowe.
Leader of the delegation, John Cregan, told participants that they had the
full backing of all parties in the Irish political system and that the issue
of the undocumented Irish was “above politics back home.”
“You’re going to stay here in America and you’re going to live in America
like generations of people before you,” said Cregan.
“We won’t rest until this matter is brought to a positive closure so you can
get your green cards and live your life in peace,” he said to a noisy
Cregan is chairman of a Dail committee called the Friends of the
Undocumented Irish, which is working behind the scenes to bring resolution
to the plight of the estimated 25,000 undocumented Irish in the U.S.
Fianna Fail Senator Paschal Mooney told the Irish Echo that like the other
Irish politicians on the platform, he had become involved in the issue
having received numerous calls from concerned parents in his constituency.
“There is a human dimension to this issue that needs to be addressed,” he
said. “I get phone calls asking for progress on legislation because ‘I have
a son in New York and he can’t come home.'”
Mooney denied accusations that the Irish government’s support of
comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. was tantamount to Irish meddling
in American political affairs.
“Successive Irish governments over the past 15 years….have responded
generously to American requests for changes in our legislation…to make
Ireland more attractive for corporate America to invest. And we don’t see
that as meddling,” said Mooney.
“So I make no apologies in coming over here to ask them to give us a bit of
slack,” he said.
Immigration reform received a massive setback last month when Republican
lawmakers in the House of Representatives put the brakes on the reform bill
passed by the Senate and backed by the Bush administration. Activists now
fear that the window of opportunity to implement a House and Senate
compromise bill before the midterm elections in November is slipping.
“This bill is nowhere near dead. It’s still clearly delaying tactics on
behalf of house Republicans,” said Kelly Fincham, ILIR Executive Director.
“This was never going to be easy.
“There is a much more determined atmosphere about this,” said Fincham
pointing out that over $100,000 had been raised in recent weeks through ILIR
fundraising efforts in New York, Boston and California.
But Fincham acknowledged that should the compromise bill fail then the
effect will be catastrophic on the Irish immigrant community in America.
“There won’t be any more Irish immigrants left in the US,” she said.
Padraig, 23, who had come to Washington D.C. to rally for the second time
agreed said that he and his friends will be leaving America for good if the
reform bill fails.
“They’re going to go home,” said the undocumented carpenter from Armagh who
lives in Yonkers.
“They love this country but if things are left too tough for them then
they’ll leave. It’s just too hard to build a life for themselves,” he said.