Congress, though still in recess in the opening days of 2006, is gearing up for what is expected to be the most contentious debate on immigration in years.
Opposing forces on Capitol Hill will battle over issues such as border control, diversity visas, guest worker visas and whether or not to allow undocumented and illegal immigrants a chance to step out on a path towards eventual legal residence.
“Since Sept. 11, the plight of the undocumented Irish has gotten worse and it has led to an underground culture that is not good for the Irish, or Irish America,” Bart Murphy, chairman of the Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers, said.
Speaking from San Francisco, Murphy said that one positive aspect at the outset of the New Year was that immigration was again a front burner issue in Washington.
“We will be looking for a positive outcome in the Senate notwithstanding the provisions of the Sensenbrenner bill which has passed the House of Representatives,” Murphy told the Irish Echo.
Murphy was referring to the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, or H.R. 4437.
The bill, which has aroused the ire of immigrant-advocacy groups and religious organizations including the U.S. Catholic Church, deals exclusively with border security, anti-terrorism measures, and enforcement of toughened immigration laws within the U.S.
Advocates of comprehensive immigration reform will be placing their bets in the coming weeks on a bipartisan Senate bill jointly authored by Senators John McCain and Edward Kennedy.
A complicating factor in the immigration debate is that this year will culminate with mid-term congressional elections in November.
Politicians about to face voters tend to take fewer legislative risks, especially with an issue as sensitive as immigration.
With that in mind, Irish immigrant representatives want to see the debate get going in earnest and indeed concluded in the first half of the year, possibly as early as March or April.
“This is the year. We need change now because the situation is spiraling downhill,” said Siobhan Dennehy, executive director of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center in New York.