It was five years ago this week that the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform hosted a huge rally on Capitol Hill to fight for legalization, but little has changed for the thousands of Irish who attended in the hopes of securing their futures. APRIL DREW speaks to some of the participants about their disappointment.
St. Patrick’s week of 2006 was one that brought hope and possibility to an estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish living in the shadows in the U.S.
Nearly 3,000 of those undocumented descended upon the country’s capital in the hope of influencing lawmakers to make the right decision about their future.
A monster rally organized by the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR) took place on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. The Irish wanted their voices heard.
They were sick of hiding in the shadows and wanted to let Congress know that the time had come to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill so they could live legally in the country that had quickly become their home.
With the sun splitting high in the sky a sea of green shirts could be seen from miles around.
mmigrants came from New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago, and some even traveled from San Francisco.
Dozens of small groups were formed, and every single representative and senator on Capitol Hill received a visit from Irish immigrants that day.
Their message was clear -- this country was built by their forefathers, and they hoped more than anything that those in charge in Washington, D.C. would see them right.
At the time the Kennedy/McCain comprehensive immigration reform bill was on the table. Both Senators John McCain and Edward Kennedy, along with New York Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton, spoke at the ILIR rally about the real possibility of legislation being passed that year that would ensure Irish immigrants a legal path to citizenship.
There were a lot of empty promises dished out by politicians that day. Hundreds of Irish came back from the trip that evening fully confident that within a year or two their life would take a positive turn.
“I really thought that I’d have my green card shortly after that day in Washington,” said a young man who asked for his name to be withheld.
All those interviewed for this article have been given alias names because they are still undocumented, and still hoping for reform in the U.S.
Liam, 33, from Northern Ireland, was one of the early risers that day five years ago.
“I’m not one for going to these things but I thought it was important that I try and have some say regarding my future in this country,” Liam told the Irish Voice over the phone last week.
Back in 2006 Liam has already spent four years in New York working in the construction industry.
“I really wanted to stay in America and do everything the proper way,” he said.
At the time of the rally in Washington Liam had been working under a friend’s Social Security number, but has since gone off the books and now works for cash.
“It’s backwards things have gone, but I have no intention of going back to Ireland,” he added.
Liam now has a child with his girlfriend and plans to remain in the U.S. long-term.
“I want my son to grow up here in New York with all the opportunities that I didn’t have when I was a child back home.”
Michelle and her husband Peter have been living in New York for nearly nine years. They don’t have any children but plan to start a family soon.
“To be honest we really wanted to hold off having a family until we got papers. Being illegal isn’t the ideal scenario while bringing a baby into the world, but at this stage we can’t put it off any longer,” Michelle candidly told the Irish Voice.
Although Michelle was unable to attend the Washington rally five years ago her husband (her fiancé at the time) went on their behalf.
“He came back pumped. He had me convinced that we would be getting green cards. I nearly thought they’d be coming in the post the next week,” Michelle laughed while remembering back.
The couple, both from the west of Ireland, did “seriously contemplate” going back home.
“Every year we made plans to move home and then we’d change our minds and stay an extra year, and sure then the recession hit Ireland and that put an end to any more talk of heading back home,” said Michelle honestly.
The couple hope that “some sort of legislation will eventually be passed” so they can be put on a path to American citizenship.
“We’re here now for the long haul, we’ve made our home here, our friends are here and New York is for us,” she said.
“I guess we’ve become Americanized without even realizing it.”
Bernie, in her early forties, recalls only too well the day in Washington.
“It was an fantastic day for the Irish. Having the likes of Hillary Clinton and, God rest his soul, Ted Kennedy on our side making us promises that I was sure would carry weight in the Senate was heartwarming,” said Bernie.