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Editorial / Periscope - Niall O'Dowd
Reform Still on the Map
October 30, 2008
Periscope by Niall O'Dowd
THERE were over 100 present at the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR) meeting in the Bronx on Tuesday evening, October 21. It was a fine crowd considering the midweek night, and the level of interest in immigration reform is still clearly very high in the community.
Ciaran Staunton, the volunteer vice chairman of ILIR, and Kelly Fincham, the only full time employee and executive director, briefed those present on what has been happening with immigration reform.
A fine presentation on the recent student visa deal between the U.S. and Irish governments by Irish Consul General Niall Burgess went some way towards explaining Irish government policy. In a nutshell the student visa deal was a way of engaging the U.S. government, and far more engagement will follow.
It is a difficult task explaining the limits of what governments and indeed organizations like ILIR can achieve to people who are desperate for good news on immigration reform.
Some of the personal stories are heartbreaking, reflecting the long and tough season we are in since illegal immigration became a firebrand issue across the U.S.
As chairman of ILIR I am always very conscious of the need to balance any optimism we feel as an organization with the reality of life for the undocumented Irish. But I am feeling better these days.
I believe the student visas are a start and that further progress can hopefully be maintained when the new administration takes its place in January.
The past few years have not been kind, with an anti-immigrant sentiment taking hold throughout the Repub-lican Party to the point where any sensible compromise became impossible on the issue.
President George W. Bush has proven a grave disappointment in his final days, unleashing immigration agents to corral thousands of frightened workers in meatpacking plants and elsewhere. All the fine rhetoric he used to espouse about seeking a fair and principled solution has utterly evaporated, like much else about his presidency.
The worst of those days, I believe, are now over. Consider the following remarks by Congressman John Shadegg, a threatened incumbent in Arizona, as reported in Sunday’s New York Times.
“I believe the Republican Party in Arizona has been hurt very badly by those who have been most outspoken on illegal immigration, who have created the appearance that Republicans are xenophobic...and intolerant.”
Well, Mr. Shadegg, it is hardly an appearance. It is a reality for all but an honorable few who include your presidential standard bearer John McCain, who took a leading role in trying to enact immigration reform in the Senate last year.
Shaddegg is one of many Republicans in border areas who now find the tide of Hispanic resentment flooding over them as the election nears.
In California, Repre-sentatives Brian Bilbray and Dana Rohrabacher, both fiercely anti-immigrant, are now in trouble because of massive Hispanic voting in their districts. Hopefully they too will learn the lessons that fanning the flame of anti-immigrant sentiment is not a winning policy.
Apart from delighting in their difficulties, however, we still need a concerted plan of action for the next Congress on this issue.
The bad news, as I said at the ILIR meeting, is that neither Barack Obama or John McCain are likely to have reform high on their to-do list. The abysmal state of the economy probably means that immigration has slipped even further down the food chain for both candidates to address if they win the White House.
However, while it is unlikely we will see a major bill like Kennedy/Mc Cain, there will very definitely be immigration legislation in the next Congress which will almost certainly be better disposed to it than the outgoing one.
ILIR, through its lobbyist Bruce Morrison and the Irish government, will be keeping a very close eye on what transpires when the Congress comes back in January.
A tough battle lies ahead, but we knew that when ILIR began its campaign almost three years ago. The ILIR volunteers have done an amazing job highlighting the issue since. Let’s hope 2009 brings good news.
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