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Future flow

Many will be Irish American and Irish-born.

In both absolute and proportional terms, however, the number of the former will far exceed the latter.

There was a time when the comparative totals would have been far closer. But since the mid-1960s, and most especially since passage of the 1965 immigration reform act, the flow of new Irish arrivals has been in steady decline.

There was a brief resurgence in the 1980s but the Irish newcomers in those years differed from their forebears in that they were mostly undocumented.

The story of their battle for legality is a familiar one by now, as is the story of the battle on behalf of those who failed to gain a legal toehold by means of Donnelly, Berman, Morrison and Schumer visas.

Above and beyond current concerns for the undocumented Irish, there is increasing discussion over what is often referred to as "future flow."

During the boom years of the Celtic Tiger, when jobs on the island of Ireland were seemingly growing on trees, there was a sense that immigration to America and other familiar destinations such as Britain, Australia and Canada, would for ever be a thing of the past.

Well, it wasn't, and once again young Irish men and woman are facing choices they, and their families, had hoped would never have to be made.

Beyond the longer term debate over emigration from Ireland, whether it is an economic safety valve or national tragedy, there is the shorter term matter of where people can go, and what they can do once they do.

As is, the other nations mentioned above would appear to be generally more welcoming at the moment. The United States, as we are aware, is having difficulties arising from overall immigrant inflow.

The Irish are a drop in the bucket in terms of that inflow, but they are our drop, Irish America's drop.

The late Senator Edward Kennedy was a driving force behind the '65 act. In an of itself, the act was a valiant effort to make inward flow more equitable. The national quota system that existed prior to the act heavily favored European nations, Ireland included.

But with regard to Ireland in particular, what followed the act turned out to be highly unfavorable, indeed discriminatory. Senator Kennedy would acknowledge this himself in later years.

"What we were trying to do was eliminate the discrimination that existed in the law, but the way that that legislation was developed worked in a very dramatic and significant way against the Irish," he said.

The law working against a particular nationality is not the intention of the law. With the 1965 act in mind, it would be interesting to explore the possibility of creating a visa program that would be open to Irish applicants with the specific intention of countering the unforeseen and undesired after effects of '65.

This would be separate to overall immigration reform which is more than ever needed to deal with a border control and admission system that clearly doesn't function as it should.

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