Also languishing are millions of people, thousands of Irish included, who have taken a gamble that their future is to be found in a new American life. In this regard, these people are very much like legal immigrants of today and past times, but of course we are specifically referring here to people who are not legally in the country.
Immigration reform is one of those issues that arouses great passion and this time around the debate in the House and Senate is likely to have its full quota. But there is equally a need for cool-headed and rational consideration of the crisis affecting our immigration system, and clear thinking as legislators seek a way of bringing this crisis to an end.
There is a sense that the votes in favor of reform are available, though there were similar predictions a couple of years ago. As was the case then, the president is seen as being broadly in favor of reform and certain to sign a well considered bill should one eventually land on his desk.
When "eventually" will be is anyone's guess. Pro-reform legislators, especially those in the House, would prefer to get this matter behind them before they have to face voters in the fall of next year. The same, presumably, goes for those senators who are also up for re-election, especially in states where immigration in a high profile and divisive issue.
It is to be assumed that most Americans still see this country as a beacon of light for people from all over the world and will continue to welcome new Americans from other shores.
But what has made this less of a certainty than in other times is the fact that many feel that the U.S. is unable to exercise due control over its own borders and immigration procedures.
Any reform effort will have to take this justifiable unease into account and have in it the basis for stricter border controls, a phenomenon that has been taking shape in recent times anyway.
If the end result of reform is greater control of the borders in an effort to stem, or sharply reduce, illegal immigration, it will be especially important that new laws allow for the maximum diversity with regard to the nationality of new immigrants.
That was the intent behind the landmark 1965 reform act and it should be the intent in any 2010 successor.
Prior to 1965, the Irish enjoyed an advantage under the old quota system. Today, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme and the Irish are being confined to the sidelines.
Somewhere in the middle there is a future for the orderly and legal movement of Irish men and women to America, perhaps not in the numbers of former times, but in numbers that at least properly reflect the increasingly complex nature of the economic and social ties linking the United States and the island of Ireland.