The huge crowd at the ILIR meetingNuala Purcell

Pictures from the meeting: Click Here

THERE was standing room only at Rory Dolan’s Irish restaurant in Yonkers on Wednesday, May 6, as the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR) held a public meeting to inform the undocumented and their supporters about actions being taken on their behalf.

Over 500 young Irish undocumented – many of them recent arrivals to the U.S, due to the economic downturn in Ireland -- many green card holders and many Irish Americans packed into the function room of the Irish establishment on McLean Avenue to hear from the ILIR committee and the group’s lobbyist in Washington, D.C., former Congressman Bruce Morrison.

“There’s nothing going on in Ireland anymore.  There are no jobs,” said Alan, 25, a native of Co. Limerick who has been working in New York for the past four months.

“They say things are bad here, but I’ve still managed to find construction work.  Not a hope of that in Ireland. There will be plenty more Irish coming over here very soon because it’s so bad.  I hope ILIR is able to do something for them, and me.”

Morrison, a co-sponsor of the Immigration Act of 1990, which enabled tens of thousands of Irish people to obtain green cards through his Morrison visa program, outlined in detail a new visa the ILIR and the Irish government have been working on.

The visa, an E-3 visa, would open the doors to legal immigration from Ireland for once and for all, explained Morrison.

The proposed E-3 visa, albeit a visa that would not directly solve the issue of the undocumented Irish currently in the U.S, is based on the model that Australia used to obtain visas for their citizens in recent years.

“Australia went first and asked for it, and now we are next to ask,” said Morrison.
Although similar to the Australian deal, Morrison said one of the significant differences between the visas would be the ILIR is looking to bring down the education qualification requirement to a high school diploma or trade experience.

 “We need a permanent solution once and for all,” said Morrison. “Irish people are always going to come to America … and the E3 is about a way to the future.”

Focusing on the present and the fact that an estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish are living in the shadows throughout the U.S., Morrison was quick to point out that the recent announcement by President Barack Obama to put the immigration issue back on the table is a very positive step in moving the debate forward.

Morrison said Obama supports the issue of comprehensive reform, and has put a great friend of the Irish, New York Senator Charles Schumer, in charge of getting the job done. Schumer is the chairperson of the Senate’s immigration subcommittee and had a representative present at the ILIR meeting, as did Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

Morrison said it is unclear what kind of details a new bill will contain or how long it would take for it to actually become law, but he feels it has legs. 

A young Mayo man, who introduced himself as Shane, said he has been living in the Bronx and working on a construction site for the past 11 months. Shane, like most of the young men and women at the meeting, has overstayed his 90 days. “I’m very happy here and plan to stay,” said the young man.

Shane said that although he was surprised to see so many other young undocumented Irish men and women in Rory’s, he said he didn’t share the “optimism that the fellas on stage” did for immigration reform.

“They kept saying that 61% of Americans want to do something for the illegals. Well, I’m sure some of the senators on the opposing side could also come up with a poll that would say 61% of people are against it,” said Shane despairingly.

The Mayo man feels the economic slump in the U.S. will have a lot to do with the immigration issue not being solved for a long time.

“How can the government give out visas when the economy here is so bad?” questions Shane.
“Every day on the construction site all people talk about is why would they give out visas when the economy is so bad. No American person is going to want people talking their jobs."

Meanwhile, a 27-year-old electrician from Co. Armagh said the ILIR meeting has given him “hope.”

Kevin, who has been living in New York for three years undocumented, said he has no plans to go back home.

“After tonight I’m hopeful that something good will happen for us soon,” said Kevin.  “The speakers were good and it was interesting to see where the whole thing was at.”

A Co. Limerick man named Eddie attended the ILIR meeting to see if there was something that could be done to allow him and his Co. Tyrone wife to travel back and forth to Ireland.

Eddie, a carpenter, lived in the U.S. for eight years before leaving for Ireland four years ago. After doing some traveling and getting married, Eddie said he couldn’t handle Ireland anymore. Back to the U.S. they came.

“We were just very lucky that we got back in,” said Eddie.  “I love it here. I don’t understand how people live at home after living here. Everything is so different.”

Like his friends in the room, Eddie said he had no intention of going back to Ireland unless something “really bad” happened.

When asked what he thought of the ILIR meeting, Eddie said it was “very positive” and he hopes to get some kind of visa, be if from Obama or the Irish government, in the coming few years.

“Either way, we’re sticking it out,” said Eddie.

Laura, a Co. Louth export who has been living in Yonkers for three years, has already missed an important family wedding but is not going anywhere.  She is waiting on the Obama administration to find a solution to her issue.

“I feel more positive this year than previous years. Obama is the man to get it done and this year I have a good feeling about it,” said Laura, who works in an office.

Although there was over 500 people at the meeting, Laura said she “knows a lot more” undocumented that “should have been” present on Wednesday night.

“You see them all on the streets; they should all be here tonight supporting the and seeing what is going on for themselves,” she said.

David, who arrived in New York seven weeks ago and is staying with a cousin in Queens, attended the ILIR meeting to see if there was any hope of him staying on legally.

David, 21 and a plumber by trade, has been working the building sites since his arrival. “There is nothing in Ireland for me, absolutely nothing, so I can’t go home,” he said.

The 21-year-old comes from Co. Down and said he has been unemployed in Ireland since Christmas.

“I came here tonight with my cousin who has been illegal for seven years. I thought maybe I’d hear some news that I would be able to get some kind of visa to stay on but it doesn’t look that way,” he said. “Not this week anyway,” he smiles.

David admitted that he is prepared to overstay his 90-day visa waiver so he can work in New York.
“There is no point in going home so I think I’m going to stay and maybe in a year or two I’ll be able to apply for this E3 visa that they were talking about tonight,” he said.

Fiona, a 26-year-old hairdresser from Co. Cork and now living in Yonkers, was “very happy” with the news.

“To be honest I didn’t know much about Obama saying he wanted to help so tonight I’m happy that there is a chance I’ll be able to go to my sister’s wedding next summer,” said Fiona optimistically.

The Cork woman, who has been living in New York since last August, plans to take a more proactive approach to getting a green card.

“They (ILIR) said they might need us to make calls, well I’ll make a thousand calls if they need me to, I’m a great talker,” she laughs. “Anything at this stage to get some papers.”