Irish Americans from across the country will be out in force in the nation’s capital next Wednesday, March 12, lobbying for immigration reform during a rally day organized by the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR).
Unlike previous trips to Washington, D.C. organized by ILIR, this one is specifically targeted towards Republican members of the House who are not in favor of reforming the nation’s immigration laws. ILIR members and Irish community activists will gather on the morning of the 12th for a briefing and full day of meetings with House members and staffers.
“We have a big turnout from many different states,” Ciaran Staunton, president of ILIR, told the Irish Voice. “We have people coming from Ohio to meet with their representative, House Speaker John Boehner, and people coming from Virginia to talk to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. We also have activists traveling from Washington, Kentucky, Florida, Illinois and many other states.
“We’ll all be pressing the same message – the 1965 Immigration Act has got to be changed, no two ways about it. The act denied access to the U.S. for the Irish, and we’re not going to stop until that situation changes.”
As the Senate passed a comprehensive reform package last year, ILIR’s lobbying for the foreseeable future will concentrate on the House. Staunton said the group recently commissioned a survey of every GOP district in the U.S., and matched each district with existing census data to obtain a clear picture of Irish American strongholds. The word went out to activists living in those districts, and March 12 will bring many of them together in a united show of force.
“Prior to 1965, the Irish could immigrate to the U.S. freely, and about 17,000 did annually. After the 1965 Act, it all changed,” an ILIR memo to its members states.
“There is still no line to join in Ireland for people who want to immigrate legally. This is the reason that we currently have about 55,000 undocumented Irish in the U.S. 2014 needs to be the year that this fact is addressed once and for all, finally giving the people of Ireland back the access to the U.S. that they had previously.
“We, the Irish, have unprecedented access to decision makers in March, and we ask that all Irish American organizations use their time this March to address the unfairness toward Ireland and Irish America of the 1965 Immigration Act.”
Though the prospects for large-scale immigration reform in 2014 are dim, Staunton says ILIR will press ahead with its agenda. In the absence of House agreement on moving the issue forward, ILIR will also promote other remedies that could, if enacted, ease the plight of the Irish undocumented.
“In the absence of legislative action, there is definitely a precedent for executive action,” said Staunton. ILIR will likely meet with White House officials on the afternoon of the 12th, and the group will put forth proposals for such actions that could help the Irish here, particularly those with employment offers.
“The president in 2012 announced that those eligible for the DREAM Act could stay here under deferred action. We maintain that the president could take executive action to help the undocumented too,” Staunton added.
After activists complete lobbying on the 12th, ILIR is hosting an Irish cultural evening in the Rayburn House Building. Many House members and staffers have confirmed their attendance.
During the lead-up to St. Patrick’s Day, ILIR will also impress on visiting Irish politicians the importance of speaking out about the undocumented and securing future legal access to the U.S. for the Irish. Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny will spend much of Friday, March 14 at the White House and Capitol Hill for the annual Irish visit to mark St. Patrick’s Day.