Irish pols told undocumented need help

By Ray O'Hanlon

Even as more Irish pack their bags to take their leave of the Republic's stricken economy, those that are looking at America for salvation were given an idea of the problems they will face during a meeting last week between Joe McManus, president of the United Irish Counties in New York, and a group of TDs and senators from three of the main political parties.

And directly arising from the meeting at Leinster House, the political representatives agreed to re-constitute an all-party lobby group to work on behalf of the undocumented Irish in the U.S.

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The lobby group had been sidelined for some time even.

During his testimony to the all party group, McManus delivered what a release described as "a detailed appeal on behalf of the undocumented Irish in New York and throughout the United States of America.

McManus said that in addition to the existing population of undocumented Irish there was "already ample evidence of a new wave of young Irish" in the United States.

"Many of these will face even more complex challenges than their counterparts in previous decades," McManus said.

The Leinster House meeting was organized by the Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, TD for Cavan/Monaghan and was also addressed by Fianna Fáil's John Cregan, the TD for Limerick West.

Based on what the TDs and senators heard at the meeting, it was agreed to revive the former all party group.

According to a release from Ó Caoláin's office, "In a very comprehensive presentation Joseph McManus set out the current position on immigration generally in the U.S. and for the Irish in particular.

"He set out some myths and facts about Irish immigrants in the U.S. including the myth that the post 9/11 anti-immigrant backlash did not affect Irish immigrants as much as other immigrants."

Said McManus: "All immigrants, regardless of their country of origin, have felt some of the negative affects of the anti-immigrant sentiment since 9/11.

"However, this has not been the effect of new laws, but rather an increase in enforcement of existing laws from 1996, the last time there was a comprehensive change in immigration legislation.

"These measures include an increase in detection and deportation, enforcement of bars (three and ten years depending on length of overstay) for immigrants who overstay their visas, and refusal of drivers' licenses to undocumented immigrants."

Addressing the TDs and senators who were present, McManus urged them to make every effort to alleviate hardships for those currently in undocumented status, and to prevent another swell of undocumented Irish immigrants.

"Realize, by doing so, you are not butting into another country's internal affairs, you are simply asking for our young to experience and benefit from the open traditions of a country that Irish nationals helped build from revolutionary times to the present.

"In light of the contribution that Irish men and women have made to the United States, in public and military service down through the years, we are not asking for much in return," McManus told the gathering.

As a backdrop to the Dublin meeting, immigration reform activists in the U.S. see little or no prospect for action on immigration reform in the lame duck weeks of the outgoing Congress. the attitude of the newly elected Congress will take some time to fully assess.

Meeting to discuss the undocumented Irish were (l-r) Senator Labhras O Murchu of Fianna Fail, Caoimhghin O Caolain TD, Sinn Féin, the UIC's Joe McManus, Independent TD Michael Lowry, John Cregan TD (FF) and Michael Ring TD of Fine Gael. Photo by Philip Fitzpatrick.