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Hundreds of Irish immigrants gather under a banner at the U.S. Capitol

Brave move on immigration

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Hundreds of Irish immigrants gather under a banner at the U.S. Capitol

President Obama’s decision to forge ahead with immigration reform in 2009 is a brave decision by a president who has shown he does not shirk a challenge.

It was clear when he hired Cecilia Munoz, former vice president of Latino advocacy group La Raza as head of intergovernmental affairs, that he was contemplating movement on the issue.

Unlike the Bush White House where there was very little real leadership on the issue, Munoz certainly knows the ropes, having spearheaded the La Raza efforts in the past to win legislative change. The near immediate decision of the two major labor unions to join forces in support of Obama is a great start.

That is the good news. The bad news is that in trying economic times the battle may be even fiercer, the hills higher than in previous attempts to change the law.

That will not stop Obama, however, who has already shown a capacity to attack problems others have urged him to leave alone.

He will well remember that many of those same people urged him not to run when he was a freshman senator for the White House, and instead bide his time. He has clearly decided on many policy options that there is no time like the present.

His determination on this issue is very welcome for an Irish community desperate for good news on this front. A recent public meeting held by the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform in Boston was very well attended and further revealed the need for action on this issue in the Irish community and by the Irish government.

The Irish have a valuable role to play. As the only white Europeans effectively lobbying for immigration reform, they perform a very real task in showing that immigration is not just an Hispanic issue as many opponents contend. The many thousands of Irish who showed up on Capitol Hill during the ILIR lobby days back in 2007 are sure testament to that.

The Irish government for its part has committed to seeking an Australian-type visa for future emigrants from Ireland that would allow 10,000 or so Irish to emigrate legally here, though on work visas, not green cards, for an initial two-year period.

The reality remains that it is impossible for any future flow of Irish to immigrate legally here because of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act that effectively ended European immigration. No other country in the immigration battle faces that harsh reality.

Senator Edward Kennedy, who created the 1965 Act, has stated that an unintended consequence was shutting out the Irish.

The Australian-type visa scheme would ensure a reasonable flow of new Irish immigrants, and passage of comprehensive immigration reform would ensure that the undocumented Irish here now are brought into the fold.

It is vital that neither goal is given up on, and that other parties are clear Ireland is determined to achieve both goals. A spirit of cooperation in allowing an Australian-type non-immigrant visa for Ireland would greatly increase the support in the community for the comprehensive reform push.

This matter needs to be approached with the utmost urgency by our community and the Irish government. The fate of our undocumented and future flow of Irish to this country is at stake.

Obama has bravely signaled that he will make a major effort in the near future to pass comprehensive reform. We should be the first to applaud his move and push to make it a reality.

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