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Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform supporter Bernadette Gibbons testifiying in support of comprehensive immigration reforrm at an Immigration Town Hall meeting held at Laguardia Community College in 2007 Photo by: ILIR

In Boston 10,000 undocumented Irish wait anxiously for news on immigration bill

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Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform supporter Bernadette Gibbons testifiying in support of comprehensive immigration reforrm at an Immigration Town Hall meeting held at Laguardia Community College in 2007 Photo by: ILIR

Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform  supporter Bernadette Gibbons testifiying in support of comprehensive immigration reforrm at an Immigration Town Hall meeting held at Laguardia Community College in 2007
Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform supporter Bernadette Gibbons testifying in
support of comprehensive immigration reform at an Immigration Town Hall  in 2007


Boston: Father John McCarthy is the emigrant chaplain at St. Brendan’s parish in Dorchester, a Boston neighborhood.

He has been on loan for more years that he cares to remember from the diocese of Limerick.

As an emigrant and pastor he is passionate about the emigrants from Ireland he takes care of and estimates there are 10,000 Irish undocumented among his far flung flock.

These days he is a worried man, worried about whether immigration reform will pass this time at last.

“We have so many people just hanging on, desperate really” he says “ I know it is the same in other communities, but the Irish undocumented need this bill desperately.”

Looking after the undocumented is a huge part of his mission at the nearby Irish Pastoral Center.

Several times a week he visits Irish prisoners in Boston area jails. He is an old fashioned man of the cloth, a doer not a preacher and a huge admirer of Pope Francis and the humility and grace he has quickly come to represent.

He has faith in American goodness, that the extraordinary goodwill and kindness he sees every day towards the less fortunate will also prevail in the immigration battle.

“I don’t know what people will do if  it does not pass.”, he said. “Our hopes are sky high, it would allow them to contribute so much to America and American life.”

Father John made St. Brendan’s parish hall where the parishioners are 25 percent Irish available to the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, an organization I co-founded with Ciaran Staunton.

Our task in Boston on Wednesday night was to inform the 100 or so Irish who attended the meeting about what was happening on immigration reform.

It is clear that the dream of reform is what keeps this Irish neighborhood alive, I met a woman who was undocumented for 22 years until her American son passed the age of 21 and made her legal.

How did it feel?: “I can't describe it,” she said. “I just hope others can achieve it too.”

I spoke to someone  else who told me how undocumented Irish drivers pick routes that take them through neighborhoods they know Irish American cops police, so that if they are stopped for having no license they may be treated leniently.

It is this life of subterfuge and underground existence that the new reform bill would sweep away in an instant. The contribution to America of such people from wherever in the world would be all that greater.

In Boston, the most Irish city in America, the new generation of Irish, most undocumented, wait and whisper hope.

“Please God this time,” says Father John, a hugely popular figure. “It would be a crushing blow if it does not happen.”

Let’s hope it does.

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