Category: Archive

Kennedy mulls new visa bill

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

Sen. Edward Kennedy is contemplating a push for more immigrant visas. The Irish are included in the plan.

But a hoped-for immigration bill that might include relief for thousands of undocumented Irish in the U.S. will take time, according to a Kennedy spokeswoman.

“We don’t want to overstate it at this point,” Stephanie Cutter, a staff member at Kennedy’s office, said. “We’re really at the start of the process.”

Kennedy, who is currently chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on immigration, is no stranger to the start of a process leading to changes in U.S. immigration law. He has been at the forefront of such efforts since the drawing up and passage of the 1965 immigration reform act. That act, largely scripted by Kennedy, placed a new emphasis on family reunification as a way of allocating visas.

For several reasons, among them a tailing off in Irish immigration to the U.S. in the mid-1960s, the ’65 act was to lower the boom on generations of relatively easy Irish legal migration to America.

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By the late 1980s, Kennedy was arguing before Congress that certain inadvertent consequences of the ’65 had resulted in the Irish facing huge difficulties in obtaining visas.

Kennedy was speaking against the backdrop of the undocumented Irish crisis of that period and the emergence of the campaign for visas led by the Irish Immigration Reform Movement.

If anything, the crisis facing undocumented Irish in 2002 is even worse given the tough exclusion laws contained in the 1996 reform act and the fact that many undocumented have settled down, or have at least attempted to settle down, and have families.

Kennedy’s energies are currently employed on three fronts with regards to immigration.

He has been a pivotal figure in drafting the Senate’s version of a post-9/11 border security bill and is the author of the Senate version of a House bill aimed at dismantling the Immigration and Naturalization Service and setting up two separate agencies, one dealing with immigration law enforcement, the other with providing services to legal immigrants.

Once those two issues are dealt with, Kennedy, according to Cutter, will be able to turn to the matter of immigration law reform.

“This would be a broad-based reform effort that would include looking at 245i,” said Cutter, referring to the lapsed immigration provision that allows eligible undocumented to apply for legal status while remaining in the U.S. “There is a movement afoot to still pass 245i as a standalone measure in the Senate.”

However, she was not overly confident of the potential success of such an effort.

Kennedy, she indicated, would probably attempt to combine 245i into a reform bill that would include more visas.

An increase in the number of available visas, if combined with a return of 245i, would potentially allow undocumented Irish immigrants to apply for legal status without having to face the 3- and 10-year bars from the U.S. included in the ’96 act.

Most Irish who want to live in the U.S. are already in the country, though illegally.

This would appear to be the case given the relatively small numbers of people from Ireland itself who have applied for, and secured, Schumer diversity visas in recent years.

Any attempt by Kennedy to secure visas for the undocumented, Irish and other nationals, would immediately run the risk of being labeled an amnesty by foes of immigration reform in Congress.

Those same foes have already characterized 245i as a blanket amnesty and the measure has been caught in legislative limbo as a result.

Strictly speaking, 245i is not an amnesty, as it requires undocumented applicants to comply with specific family and employment requirements before they can even apply for relief.

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