On Tuesday Senator Charles Schumer introduced a bill in the Senate that, if it goes through, would create a new type of visa for Irish people and allow 10,000 more to live in the US on a temporary basis. This follows the passing of the H.R. 3012 bill in the House of Representatives late last month.
The House bill increases the number of green cards to be issued over the next few years to natives of India, China, Mexico and the Philippines, but it would decrease those received by citizens of other countries, including Ireland, according to a statement from the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform. It went quietly through the House of Representatives on Nov. 29, by 389 votes to 15.
Supporters of Irish immigration were quick to act. “When we heard it came out we jumped up and down and said, ‘Hey, what about the Irish?'” said the chairman of the ILIR, Bart Murphy. “We’ve had for some time a number of issues pending in Congress, waiting to get put forward, and the problem has always been there has not been a bipartisan bill.”
So on Friday last week, members of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and other community-based organizations met at Senator Chuck Schumer’s office in Midtown to see what he would say. Some had flown in from San Francisco on Friday morning.
Over the course of an hour’s discussion at the meeting, Schumer said that he would bring in a companion bill in the Senate along with senators Patrick Leahy and Dick Durbin. It will incorporate a provision for Irish citizens similar to the E-3 visa that Australia was granted in 2005, creating 10,000 visas in a reciprocal agreement with the Irish government. Although an Irish E-3 would not lead directly to a green card, it could be indefinitely renewed, and holders could slide from it to another track, from which a green card might be possible.
It would introduce a number of elements that activists have been looking for but would be less than comprehensive immigration reform. Nor will it affect the position of the undocumented. “It is a proactive bill looking forward,” said Schumer’s state director Martin Brennan. “It addresses the gates that were erected on the flow of Irish immigration starting in the early sixties.”
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As always with immigration, the situation is complex. Chuck Grassley, a Republican senator in Iowa who sits on the immigration subcommittee and has expressed concerns about immigration many times in the past, has voiced his reservations. Irish activists are urging Republican politicians to pressure Senator Grassley not to stand in the way. “We’ve had a lot of outreach with Senator Rubio, we’ve been working with Senator Kirk in Illinois, we’ve just started working with Senator Toomey, a new senator in Pennsylvania, and Senator Scott Brown in Massachusetts,” Bart Murphy said. “So those are the ones we’re going to be working on again.”
“For this bill to ultimately succeed it is critically important that we get bipartisan support,” Brennan said. “We’re hopeful to persuade our political partners on the Republican side of the aisle to come join us in this.”
Now is a good time to try to push a bill through. Towards the end of the Senate session, deals are done and bills often pass more quickly. With the H.R. 3012 already passed by the House, the issue of immigration is on the table.
Although the Irish government favors the introduction of an E-3 visa, there is little that it can do. Murphy described it as a cheerleader and not a participant. “They’re not playing on the pitch,” he said. “To the extent that they can cheer us on and offer that kind of support, it’s welcome.”
Asked whether he felt hopeful that an deal would be reached this time, Murphy struck a broadly upbeat tone. “You have to be optimistic in this business,” he pointed out. “We’ve been at this for many years. Something good will happen sometime.”
Schumer has promised that if his proposal doesn’t pass in the Senate this time, he will find another vehicle to attach it to and will bring it up again next year. “He believes in immigration in general, that’s why he chose to pursue the immigration subcommittee chairmanship,” Brennan said. “He believes it has been a source of diversity and innovation for America’s culture and society and economy.”