In a diverse schedule that saw Martin meet with legislators on Capitol Hill and Irish community leaders and activists in New York, Martin also took time out to inspect the new GAA facility in Rockland County, attend the Cork Association of New York’s 125th anniversary dinner dance, and observe at first hand the temporary re-interment of the remains of 19th century Irish immigrants on Staten Island.
In the case of his Rockland County sojourn, Martin could be forgiven for thinking that he was standing in a field in his native Cork such was the unforgiving weather on the day. But his presence was welcome and due acknowledgment of the great efforts being made in the county to pass on a love of Gaelic football, hurling and camogie to a new generation of young players.
But on the matter of generations, Martin was required to devote more than a few minutes of sober thought to the ongoing plight of this generation of undocumented Irish, and to considering how future generations of Irish men and women will gain legal access to the United States in circumstances that will not, hopefully, resemble too closely the forced and large scale exodus from the island of Ireland in times past.
As he himself has done in the past, as have fellow members of his government, Martin stressed the need to wait and see how the cause of comprehensive immigration reform fares on Capitol Hill. It seems that we should have a pretty good idea of reform’s fate by St. Patrick’s Day, if not before.
But Martin also spoke of how future Irish migration to America night be accomplished in a legal and orderly fashion, this in the context of the much discussed bilateral visa idea in which a certain number of Irish would gain access to the U.S. on an annual basis, while a certain number of U.S. citizens would be allowed move to Ireland for work purposes in similar fashion.
Martin indicated that the bilateral concept, while of necessity waiting in line behind comprehensive reform, would, or could, have a life of its own should the reform effort flounder, this being the case if whatever emerges from Congress fails to provide adequate relief for the undocumented Irish, or if it falls short of mapping out a means of future entry into America for an agreed number of Irish immigrants.
This is important because the sense is that if a bill passes that is designed to deal solely with the present crisis – as many as twelve million people, thousands of Irish among them living in the country illegally – but does not in some way open up America’s door in a more equitable fashion than has been the case in recent years, then the problem of the undocumented Irish is simply going to regenerate itself.
And that is something that nobody wants to see.
Even if the numbers are not big, at least compared to decades past, or compared to migration levels from far larger nations, we want it to be the case that young Irish men and women, ready and willing to give their energy and talent to a new country, are properly welcomed and legally assimilated.
The groundwork for such a prospect has to take firm shape over the next few months. Minister Martin seems to well understand this.