Boston's undocumented Irish immigrants continue to push for a comprehensive immigration bill that will grant a path to citizenship for the estimated 10,000 Irish immigrants in the city, despite the House Republicans rejection of a comprehensive immigration reform bill in July.
“We’ve sent busloads of Irish to Washington,” said Kieran O’Sullivan, immigration and citizenship advisor at Dorchester’s Irish Pastoral Center, told WGBH News.
O'Sullivan added that the Irish may help to bridge the gap of the "us versus them" mentality towards Hispanic immigrants in the immigration debate, and that for the Irish, being white, native English speakers removes many of the barriers to cultural assimilation that other immigrants often encounter.
Boston-based, Irish immigration advocacy groups such as IPC and the Irish International Immigration Center are joining forces under Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Coalition to advocate for immigration reform.
One of the highest Irish-concentrated cities in the nation, Boston has an estimated 16 percent of its citizens claiming Irish ancestry.
Congress passed a series of visa programs that eased the path to citizenship for Irish immigrants in the 1980s and 90s. According to Sullivan, many of these Irish immigrants arrived in Boston on a student, visitor, or temporary work visa and overstayed their visas after finding work as nannies, bartenders or laborers and they risk deportation if they leave the United States and attempt re-entry.
Hugh Meehan, chairman for the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, told WGBH News that there are an estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish immigrants living in the U.S.
“Immigrants are not going anywhere - what we need to do is document the people that are here,” Meehan said.
Meehan said they have gained the support of several conservative lawmakers, including Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who proposed legislation that would grant 10,500 special work visas for Irish immigrants.
Irish International Immigrant Center executive director Ronnie Millar said that Irish American politician feel a close connection to their Irish roots.
“When all of these politicians, like Joe Biden or Representative Richard Neal, hear this rally call - especially from Irish organizations- it really resonates. We may not have numbers, but I think it’s important that the Irish continue our influence.
“This is an opportunity for immigrants of all backgrounds. Now, we say that with an Irish accent, but we say it loud and clearly.”
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