Category: Archive

Senate scuttles immigration bill provision

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

It’s going to be a long, hot summer for the undocumented Irish. Tougher controls at America’s borders are expected to emerge from the U.S. Senate this week. But 245i, the immigration provision that would have allowed many eligible undocumented immigrants to sort out their affairs while remaining in the U.S., will not be part of the Senate immigration and border control bill now heading for a vote.

The result could mean that potentially thousands of undocumented Irish will have to stay put, or run the risk of being barred for years from U.S. soil if they risk a visit back to Ireland in the coming months.

Under current immigration law, the undocumented can be barred from the U.S. for three or 10 years depending on how much time they have spent in the country beyond the legal six-month period.

In a separate development, reported last week in the Echo, that six-month period could be soon reduced to 30 days if a new proposal from the Immigration and Naturalization Service is implemented.

245i, which was included in a bill recently passed by the House of Representatives, faced immediate opposition in the Senate from powerful figures, among them Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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Byrd moved to block the border bill in its entirety partly because it contained 245i.

The provision’s most powerful supporter in the Senate has been Byrd’s fellow Democrat, Sen. Edward Kennedy.

But despite Kennedy’s patronage, and the fact that a return of 245i for a limited period of four months was attracting bipartisan congressional support and backing from the Bush administration, Kennedy this week retreated from his position on 245i, a move that will now likely lift Byrd’s opposition and allow smooth passage of the border control measure.

A spokeswoman for Kennedy, Stephanie Cutter, said that 245i was being shelved “for the immediate future.”

Cutter said that Kennedy thought that the House bill containing 245i was too restrictive to begin with.

“Looking at the political reality, it was decided that it was not worth pushing a bad bill through,” Cutter said.

She said that Kennedy would now be looking at a way to take up 245i as part of a broader effort aimed at reforming current immigration law.

Cutter couldn’t say how long such a broader reform initiative might take.

Kennedy’s unhappiness with the time limit and other restrictions in the House-approved 245i package were reflected by Irish immigration advocates in the aftermath of the Senate’s ditching of the measure.

Tom Conaghan, director of the Irish Immigration and Pastoral Center in Philadelphia, said he agreed with Kennedy’s assessment of the situation and the idea to move for broader immigration reform.

“[Kennedy] is very astute,” Conaghan said.

Conaghan said that the House 245i proposal had contained a very tight timetable for securing the necessary family or labor certification to comply with 245i’s stipulations. A longer time would have been needed.

“Hopefully, it will come back in better form,” he said.

Sheila Gleeson, director of immigration services at the Irish Immigration Center in Boston agreed, in turn, with Conaghan’s assessment.

“The 245i version passed in the House was very restrictive and complicated,” she said. “In the end it would not have been of benefit to many people. We supported the old version [allowed lapse by Congress in 1998], which allowed eligible people to get a green card over the length of time needed.”

Conaghan, meanwhile, was under no illusions with regard to the consequences for the undocumented Irish of a tightening of already restrictive immigration rules enshrined in the 1996 immigration reform act.

“It’s extremely difficult for the Irish to adjust their status right now,” he said. “It would be a great help if the bars of excludability were removed. That would give our young people an incentive to apply for a green card,” Conaghan said.

“Frankly, things can’t get any worse. We have a crisis on our hands. There’s been no relief for the Irish over the last 10 years and right now there are very few options for the Irish who want to legally immigrate to the U.S.

“It’s really not fair. The Irish coming here are not terrorists. They are good people who deserve a chance but who are being penalized anew by the horrible acts of Sept. 11.”

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