The comprehensive immigration reform bill currently wending through the Senate is looking better than 50-50 for passage according to New York Senator Charles Schumer.
Schumer came out last week and unabashedly supported the E-3 Irish visa provision in the bill, and the visas will surely be known as the Schumer program if it passes.
The New York senator has taken over the mantle of Senator Edward Kenny on the issue of immigration reform and has shown a rare skill and political deftness in keeping the bipartisan group of eight senators together on the sweeping bill that they authored.
If the E-3 provision stays in the bill Ireland would be entitled to 10,5000 work visas per year. It would have a transforming impact on the Irish American community. In addition the overall bill would ensure that most of the 50,000 or so estimated undocumented Irish here would be covered.
Developments in the House, where a preliminary immigration agreement was reached by a bipartisan group of eight members there, also bodes well.
The House bill will be trickier to pass than in the Senate given the hard line opposition by many Southern Republican members to any new bill that creates “amnesty” for the undocumented as they see it.
But House Speaker John Boehner knows there are powerful reasons why national Republicans want the immigration issue off their hands, and that they desperately need to make a major outreach to Hispanics.
He also knows that more green cards for highly skilled workers is a popular stance for his party, and he will have to make the choice between the usual right wing view of not an inch and more progressive elements in the GOP.
So the vibes are suddenly a lot more positive for progress than they were even a week or two ago.
The big negative this week is the news that the J-1 visa program, which for years has allowed tens of thousands of Irish to come to the U.S. to legally work in the summer, may be under significant pressure in the Senate bill, with prospective employers asked to pay $500 for any new student hire.
That would have a devastating impact on the ability of young students to get work and must be opposed strongly by the Irish lobby and the Irish government.
Immigration reform is one of the most difficult bills to pass through Congress because of so many competing interests.
Once in a blue moon the interests align and coincide, and this may well be that lunar occasion.
Let's hope it is not all moonshine on this go round.
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