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ILIR supporters Fergal Kennedy, Nora O'Connor and Tom Long Photo by: Nuala Purcell

ILIR'S new mission

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ILIR supporters Fergal Kennedy, Nora O'Connor and Tom Long Photo by: Nuala Purcell

The packed crowd at the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform meeting in Yonkers last week, including a sea of new faces, points out yet again the importance of the immigration lobby organization.

The new faces are a sign that immigration from Ireland hasn't gone away you know, that despite the savants during the Celtic Tiger who pronounced that issue dead, the age old pattern of looking to America for young Irish in need of work is once again repeating itself.

Some in Ireland who were most critical of the Irish undocumented in the U.S. should rethink their strategy given what the latest economic crisis over there has wrought.

As these columns have often stated, there is an historic pattern of emigration every 30 years or so from Ireland – the twenties, fifties, eighties and now again. We were often castigated for such views and accused of being out of touch with modern day realities in Ireland. We would say those who argue with history end up looking like fools.

The Irish government hopefully gets this new reality. It was a fact noted by Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin during his visit here last week when he stated that the government's priority remains the issue of the Irish undocumented and attempts to legalize their status.

Now we need action on all sides, by the government, by ILIR and everyone else who has a stake in this vital issue.

In the new Obama era there is a new role for ILIR too, as the only major non-Hispanic or Asian lobbying group seeking immigration reform across the whole spectrum of immigration politics.

That is a valuable role as the only European ethnic group that has a cohesive lobby in Washington, and one that will certainly be of great assistance to the wider lobbying issues in the months ahead.

There are always attempts to portray this issue of comprehensive reform as a Hispanic only movement, a move that borders on the racist in the hands of some right wing commentators. The recent attempt to link the Mexican outbreak of swine flu in some way to the immigration issue is just the latest in that line of perverse reasoning.

Make no mistake -- these tactics succeeded the last time that immigration reform was being debated in Washington. The image of millions of Hispanics sweeping across U.S. borders and the repetition of one word – amnesty – proved to be extremely successful tactics by the anti-immigrant groups.

ILIR can literally put a different face on this debate, one that confounds easy name calling and stereotyping. Some of the most vocal against immigrant rights are of Irish extraction themselves. It is no harm at all to point out that they too have roots deep in the American history of immigration from all over the world.

In order for the lobby to succeed on this occasion there must be far closer links between the lobby groups form the various ethnic sides. The coordination of the ILIR lobbying days in Washington, D.C. which were very successful when thousands attended should be recreated with all ethnic groups participating so that the message goes out loud and clear to legislators that this issue remains front and center for millions of Americans.

The reality is that Obama is a very different president than George W. Bush, one who means what he says and appears to have a golden touch when it comes to getting legislation passed.

He needs to see a visible lobby in support of immigration reform, and to see that ethnic groups of many colors favor his legislation. ILI|R can play an invaluable role in bringing that point home. The time for unity and action is now.

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