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Irish in New York react cautiously to new visa bill

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Last week saw the introduction of two bills to the Senate which could potentially allow 10,000 Irish to come to America every year and obtain work visas.

When Dubliner Clare, 40, heard the news last Tuesday that New York Senator Charles Schumer had introduced a new bill to the Senate, she was elated. Finally, this could be her path to gaining legal status after 12 years of undocumented existence in New York.

“I can only hope that they do the right thing for the Irish,” she told the Irish Voice.

Schumer’s bill is based on the E-3 program which is currently offered to Australian citizens. It would offer 10,000 Irish citizens the chance to obtain work visas. If it is passed as is, it would allow for undocumented Irish to apply for a waiver of inadmissibility through the new E-3 program.

Delaney married an Irishman and the couple reside in Queens. For both of them, the passage of the bill is extremely important.

“I've spent most of my adult life here, my roots are here now,” she reflects.

“I've heard people in the Irish community talking about it because it’s the first positive thing that has happened for the Irish community on this front in a long time.”

Last Friday, Senate Republicans responded with a bill of their own, when Senators Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Mark Kirk of Illinois introduced the Irish Immigration Reform and Encouragement Act of 2011. However, there is no waiver for the undocumented in their bill.

“It fixes part if the problem, but is doesn’t fix all of the problem,” Siobhan Dennehy, executive director of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, told the Irish Voice from her Woodside office.

“There is still a lot of uncertainty about where the bill is heading.  Every scenario is different for each applicant, but for fixing future flow it definitely solves the problem.”

When Patrice, 25, heard the news, she admits she was confused. Living here illegally for over five years, the young woman is actively seeking a way to retain legal status.

“As regards to what the bill meant for anyone living illegally out here it was very cryptic,” she said.

“All I knew was that it was a new bill but there was no information as it to how it was going to benefit anyone living out here illegally.

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“I have spoken to someone that has a better understanding about what the bill is proposing and now I have a little more knowledge,” she admitted.

The young woman, originally from the west of Ireland, says she is not overly optimistic about the passage of the bill that could help illegal Irish in the U.S.

“There is only a limited amount of visas that can be granted and the amount of undocumented like myself out here is nearly three, if not four times that,” she added.

In the Aisling Irish Community Center on McLean Avenue in Yonkers, Orla Kelleher reports the news of the bill has prompted discussion, both at home and abroad.

“This is the greatest hope of people being able to emigrate here legally from Ireland,” Kelleher, the executive director of the center, told the Irish Voice.

“We have got quite a few emails from people who skipped the small print and wanted to know what they could do to get first in line, once the bill is passed.”

The uncertainty that lays ahead for the passage of the legislation means that the undocumented Irish here are remaining levelheaded.

“Those who were already living here undocumented were more cautious.  Year after year their hopes have been dashed,” she said.

“We are looking for whatever small print may be there to exclude the undocumented.”

Over the past 12 months, Kelleher says the Aisling Center has witnessed a surge in Irish emigrants arriving in New York.

“It’s a constant flow now, whereas two or three years ago it was a trickle,” she said. “The age range goes from 18 to one 57-year old man.”

Based on research conducted by the Aisling Center, this year, the highest percentage of emigrants arriving in New York came from Mayo and Dublin.

“Based on our statistics from this past year, the only two counties not represented are Carlow and Wicklow,” she revealed.

“The majority were employed or in college, just before emigrating.”

Whatever happens regarding the progress of the immigration bill in 2012, Kelleher says the Aisling Center has one important message.

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