Published Tuesday, March 10, 2009, 11:57 AM
Updated Thursday, July 23, 2009, 5:18 PM
“Why are so many Irish illegal? Have they stopped issuing visas? I applied for a green card in 1990 and we got it in 1992, and after five years we applied for citizenship. We were granted citizenship in 2003. What is going on with all of these stories of illegals that I read on the Irish Voice Web site? I guess I have been out of the loop for a long time.”
Yes, it seems like you have been out of touch with regards to the Irish and how they can go about securing legal status in the U.S., circa 2008.
The timeframe of 1990 was heady in comparison. There was the Donnelly visa program created in the late 1980s which bestowed green cards on several thousand Irish. This was followed by the granddaddy of all programs, the Morrison scheme, which legalized some 48,000 Irish during its 1991-’94 existence.
The Morrison program, named after its prime congressional sponsor, then-Congressman Bruce Morrison, provided for 120,000 green cards, but very cleverly the Irish fought for, and won, the 48,000 set-aside exclusively for themselves.
Since then? There hasn’t been much, if anything, on offer. There’s the annual DV-1 diversity visa lottery, which issues 50,000 green cards a year, but it’s open to applicants from virtually every country in the world and attracts millions of entries a year, so the Irish who apply are, for the most part, unlucky, given the enormous odds against success.
Then there was the Walsh visa program, which was created in 1998 as part of U.S. support of the peace process. Its scope, though, was extremely narrow. It was open only to young, unemployed, lower-skilled residents of Northern Ireland and the border counties, and offered temporary work visas that were issued only for use in so-called U.S. “hub” cities. Once the visa expired after two or three years, the holder was expected to return home to put the job skills learned here to use in Ireland. (The Walsh program actually ends in September of this year.)
The current crop of Irish undocumented in the U.S. have extremely limited options with regards to legalizing themselves, short of marrying an American citizen. Worse, you’re undoubtedly aware that the climate towards extending immigration benefits of any kind is toxic in this country since September 11. That wasn’t the case when the Donnelly and Morrison visa programs were created and passed, so those who are here now have an uphill battle in the quest to earn legal status.
Uphill, but not impossible. The Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR) continues its mission to regularize the undocumented and to provide a stream of visas which would ensure future flows of Irish who wish to relocate to the U.S. have options. The Irish government has been fully supportive of the campaign, and ILIR has received personal seals of approval from many political power brokers on Capitol Hill, including presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and John McCain.
You should visit the ILIR website at www.irishlobbyusa.org to keep abreast of the struggles that today’s undocumented Irish are facing, and perhaps get involved in their cause. Many of them have built lives here that span several years, and could use all the help they can get.