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A transatlantic helping hand for the undocumented

Families jpg

Families jpg

Pictured in Donegal Town at the launch of The Families of the Undocumented Irish in America are members of the group, including the Chairperson Michael McMahon (center) and politicians Phil Flanagan MLA (left), Councilor Martin Kenny (second from right) and Senator Marc MacSharry (right).

By Ray O’Hanlon

A new organization has been established in Ireland to campaign on behalf of the undocumented Irish in America.

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The group, called “The Families of the Undocumented Irish in America,” is chaired by Michael McMahon from Bundoran, County Donegal.

“For far too long, successive Irish governments have sat on their hands and failed to support their citizens living in America,” said McMahon, who was recently in New York visiting his undocumented children.

“The current American administration has exhausted all avenues to introduce comprehensive immigration reform at this stage, but I am hopeful that the issue will resurface during, and after, the coming presidential election campaign, McMahon said.

“However, there exists a mechanism for the Irish government to involve itself in resolving the plight of the undocumented Irish in America through a visa waiver scheme, which would remove the three and ten year unlawful presence bars for undocumented citizens.”

McMahon stated that “thousands of families across Ireland have been failed by this current government.”

He said that Mexico had received 58,000 waivers in 2011 alone, this according to the New York Times.

This, he said, was all because the Mexican government pursued it with the American administration.

Other countries like Israel, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Australia already participated in the waiver scheme.

Continued McMahon: “Despite knowing about the existence of this visa waiver scheme for over four years - which could have been the solution for a significant number of our undocumented citizens in America - the Irish government has failed to seek this option for our people.

“We believe that he Irish government should immediately explore the potential for the introduction of a visa waiver scheme for undocumented Irish citizens living in America.

“In March of this year, a briefing was held in Dublin for TDs, Senators and MLAs and a clear call was made of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, to raise this issue with the American Embassy in Dublin.

“Contact was made with the embassy, but it only came from a secretary within the department and not from the minister himself. We are left asking if citizens are not worth Minister’s Flanagan’s time and effort?

“To date, Charlie Flanagan has never formally asked the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Kevin O’Malley for these waivers. An Taoiseach has also never asked Mr. O’Malley for these waivers.

“The important thing about these waivers is that they would be granted by the American Embassy in Dublin, but the Irish government must formally ask the U.S. Ambassador for them.

“Ministers do not need to go to Washington, D.C. or to New York to do this. The Irish government just needs to go to the U.S. Embassy in Dublin and formally ask for the visa waivers to be granted to eligible Irish citizens.

“I am calling for them to do that as a matter of priority and The Families of the Undocumented Irish in America will continue to put pressure on them until they do.”

Mr. McMahon said the new group would be holding a series of meetings across the island of Ireland in the coming weeks.

An initial meeting was held recently in the Bronx during Mr. McMahon’s U.S. visit, and the formal launch followed in Donegal Town.

He told the Echo that because he had children in the U.S. who are undocumented for almost twenty years, he had long been focused on the immigration issue.

“But since I heard about these waivers I knew that this is something that we, the parents and the brothers and sisters and the friends, can do in Ireland to make the difference and get our families legal.

“I've been coming to America to visit my children for the weddings and my grandchildren's christenings and all the rest for years and years, but it’s about time that this situation changed, and we can do it from Ireland.

“Our children and families might be out of sight but they're never out of our minds. We the families and friends will be the voice and the vote in Ireland for the Irish undocumented in America.”

McMahon said he wanted to encourage people interested in joining the new campaign, or lending it a hand, to get in contact by email at irishundocumented@gmail.com, or on Twitter @IRLUndocumented.”