The popular McLean Avenue hostelry was the venue for the first on-the-road meeting of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, a group that is campaigning in support of the McCain/Kennedy immigration reform bill in Congress.
It was a case of squeeze in and stand what little ground was to be had in the restaurant’s Killeshandra Room as a series of speakers outlined a plan of campaign that will include a March 8 bus cavalcade to the nation’s capital in support of comprehensive reform.
More than a thousand people either attended the event or stood in line outside the bar/restaurant where they were asked to sign names and contact information.
In this battle, the undocumented will themselves be the lobbying foot soldiers.
The crowd in the Killeshandra Room needed little briefing on the reality of being undocumented, the worries over keeping a job, not being able to travel to Ireland for even the most personal bereavements, or renewing a driving license.
Those worries are now being channeled into a lobbying effort aimed at tri-state local, state and federal level politicians, not least New York senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chuck Schumer, whose diversity visa creation is under threat from Congress members who want to seal the nation’s borders and evict an illegal and undocumented population numbering roughly eleven million.
The number of undocumented Irish is but a tiny fraction of this total, but it seemed at times that a significant fraction of them were jammed into Rory Dolan’s.
Those at the back of the room had to contend with the joyous buzz of Friday night revelers whenever the connecting doors to the main bar and restaurant area were open.
As such, it was sometimes hard to hear the podium speakers, a situation tinged with irony given that ILIR has attended to detail right down to the presence of a woman speaking in sign language for the benefit of the truly hearing impaired.
ILIR is modeling itself in large part on the Irish Immigration Reform Movement and there were a number of references to the success of that lobby group in a meeting that lasted the best part of two hours.
As with the IIRM, the ILIR gathering was replete with the tools of gentle revolution — ILIR t-shirts and pens that were kept busy recording contact information.
But there was, additionally, a palpable air of anger and frustration in the room, one that well exceeded similar events in the late 1980s and early ’90s.
One of the immigration bills in the congressional melting pot, the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, or H.R. 4437, is jointly authored by GOP Reps. James Sensenbrenner and Peter King.
Critics have complained that the bill in its current state makes criminals of the undocumented and even those who try to help them. Under its provisions, being undocumented or illegal is treated as being an aggravated felony as opposed to a misdemeanor.
The complaint was echoed at the ILIR meeting where more than one speaker protested that those Irish who simply wanted to work hard and secure their American dreams were being treated like terrorists and criminals.
The current reality of what is effectively a lockdown in the undocumented Irish community was outlined clearly at one point by Trish Grogan of the Aisling Irish Center who told the crowd of a former undocumented immigrant who had returned to Ireland.
As such, the individual was now barred from reentering the United States. A direct effect of this was that he had not been able to recently fly the Atlantic to bring home the remains of his brother who had died in the U.S.
Stories such as this have been the spur for considerable agitation back in Ireland itself where politicians have been hearing accounts of similar situations from anxious parents, many of whom have not seen their American-based offspring in years.
The stories that filled the room in Rory Dolan’s were themselves first cousins to others voiced in Chicago that same night where a similar Irish immigrant lobby group, Chicago Immigration Reform, was launched.
Estimates put the undocumented Irish population in Chicago and the surrounding Midwest region at about 5,000.
The Friday night meeting took place at the Irish American Heritage Center on the north side of the city. That meeting followed an inaugural CIR rally the previous night at Chicago Gaelic Park on the city’s south side.
Breand_n Magee of the Chicago Irish immigration Support center said the meetings had been well attended and that a twelve member CIR committee was being formed this week.
The center, said Magee, was precluded from direct participation in the campaign but was not in the least bit surprised at its emergence.
Concern in the Irish community was steadily growing, Magee said, and as was the case in other states, it was becoming increasingly difficult for the undocumented Irish to secure or renew drivers’ licenses.
“This problem is crippling businesses,” Magee said.
East Coast tour
ILIR, meanwhile, is bringing its campaign to Philadelphia this Friday evening, Feb. 3 with a meeting at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Columbus Boulevard at Penn’s Landing. The free and open meeting begins at 7:30 p.m.
“It is of utmost importance to secure our borders but it is equally important to enact legislation that offers a fair immigration policy. Immigrants are part of the fabric of our country and the Irish in particular have literally helped to build this country, the roads, the bridges, the railroads, and the historic churches,” said Tom Conaghan of Philadelphia’s Irish Immigration and Pastoral Center.
Yet, our considerable contributions to America’s growth are being ignored and dismantled by the anti-immigrant monopoly in Washington. As a result, Irish immigrants are being driven out and Irish communities across the United Sates have been disrupted and changed forever. We need to take action now, before it’s too late,” Conaghan, who also heads the Federation of Irish American Societies of the Delaware Valley, said.
Details on this Friday’s meeting and immigration reform activities in the Philadelphia area are available from the center at (610) 789-6355 or (610) 613-2389.