The Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR) descended on Washington DC, on Wednesday, March 12, as part of the group’s “Irish Lobby Day”. ILIR co-founder Ciaran Staunton stated “The No Irish need apply sign has been hung out oAmerica since 1965. It needs to change.”
The lobbying group travelled to the White House where they met Obama Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. He told the group he understood the Irish were excluded by the 1965 Act. He was told his own family would not have been able to come to America because of this Act.
The "Irish Lobby Day" was deemed a huge success in the battle for immigration reform for the Irish American community. The events of the day were digested at the official kick off to the St. Patrick’s Day festivities, at an Irish cultural evening at the Rayburn house office building.
Key figures who showed up at the evening reception were Republican Congressman Darrell Issa who heads the powerful oversight committee and GOP Iowa congressman Steven King, a long time opponent of immigration reform.
The array of 50 Irish Americans from Seattle, Florida, New York, California, and several other states earlier joined forces on Capitol Hill to push forward what is an almost 50-year battle which has seen Irish people effectively locked out of America and in so many cases become part of the reality of "undocumented Irish in America".
The ILIR organized the "rally of the troops" as described by one veteran campaigner as a continuous push from the Irish community for an overhaul of US immigration laws.
President of the ILIR Ciaran Staunton, greeted the host of Irish American campaigners who had gathered for an early morning briefing session on the events of the day.
“Irish people are not looking for preferential treatment on this issue, but we are looking for a fair place in the line,” he said.
He stressed the importance of keeping the fight moving forward and reiterated the key message that Irish people have been unfairly discriminated since the lockout in 1965. The immigration legislation “shut the door on the Irish,” he added.
This decision has had knock-on effects to the current day situation of having thousands of undocumented Irish living and as one campaigner said "trapped" in their adopted home country.
The ILIR President said that the "lobby day" was about bringing Irish American constituents from districts where Republicans are seeking re-election in the November midterm congressional elections.
As delegates left the breakfast meeting, they were reminded to knock on every door and keep asking the question of "Why No Irish Need Apply".
The supporters had travelled through the night to be a part of the lobby day, a great portrait of the ingenuity and integrity that the represents the Irish American identity and community.
Green and white shirts were distributed among the group. In bold green writing against the backdrop of the white cotton t shirts the message was loud and clear to be seen across every Irish American who had made the journey to Washington DC to fight the good fight.
The message on the shirts was visible for the whole capital to see “2014: No Irish Need Apply. Why?”
With this message out in force by the power of the an Irish American community, the groups dispatched for five hours of lobbying. Lobbying those who hold the keys to unlocking a 49-year-old mistake, as was observed by some of the delegates.
Each of the delegate groups had key political players which they wanted to target to help support the cause of the ILIR and immigration reform. Such people as Rep. Randy Forbes and Jeff Denham were those the lobbyists were seeking to meet with.
Ciaran Staunton added that the lobby day had seen a big turnout of Irish Americans from various parts of the United States joining in the rally in DC on Wednesday.
He pointed to the fact that there are some 55,000 thousand illegal Irish immigrants living in the United States.
“The immigration act in 1965 locked Irish people out, up until this act the Irish could immigrate to the US freely.
“We will not stop until the unfairness towards Irish people is amended.”
Between 2002 and 2011, Ireland received just 15,389 of the 10.5 million US permanent visas issued globally. This is approximately 0.15% of the total visas issued.
The key message being put to Congress by the ILIR Presidents meeting at the White House was that Irish Americans want fair immigration reform.
The adrenaline from a successful day of lobbying was an energy that charged the foyer on Capitol Hill.
The room was alive with the Irish American community and reminded by Ciaran Staunton that when someone says"‘Happy St. Patrick’s Day" this year the only answer back should be “We’ll be a lot happier when Irish people can come legally to the United States” a comment which was met with cheers from the crowd.