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President Johnson signs the 1965 Act into law. The Kennedy brothers Ted and Robert are to his left. The act essentially ended legal Irish immigration to America.

Trying to help the undocumented Irish in an earlier generation

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President Johnson signs the 1965 Act into law. The Kennedy brothers Ted and Robert are to his left. The act essentially ended legal Irish immigration to America.

Judge John Collins, then a young Irish American lawyer in New York, was one of the leaders for the fight in the mid 1960s to change the 1965 Immigration Act that prevented Irish coming to America. Here, in the first of three articles, he describes how the Irish began to fight back soon after the bill was passed.

Judge John Collins, then a young Irish American lawyer in New York, was one of the leaders for the fight in the mid 1960s to change the 1965 Immigration Act that prevented Irish coming to America. Here, in the first of three articles, he describes how the Irish began to fight back soon after the bill was passed.

“My thoughts concerning the immigration issue had always been along legislative lines. We should make the community aware of the situation and get Congress to act but I realized that this would be no easy task.

Father O'Callaghan argued that we must also be a service organization. We must set up an office and assist undocumented Irish in need of immigration help. It would be necessary to learn what the law required for entry, what papers were needed and how to fill out the applications. We knew none of this. He suggested that the organizations must be made aware of our service and see its merit. Our efforts, he said, must be two pronged-service as well as proposing legislation. It took awhile, but ultimately, I was persuaded as to the merit of his suggestion.

Even before we had an office - through word of mouth - we had a young illegal immigrant in need of help. Joseph Harte of County Galway. Father, through contacts, found a job for the lad in the kitchen of the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin, an orphanage on Staten Island. He picked up young Harte and took him by taxi to Staten Island. He obtained immigration forms for him and took Harte to the Immigration and Naturalization Service on West Broadway in Manhattan in order to file the papers. We had no treasury at that time and Harte had no money. Father O'Callaghan paid the expenses himself. The costs amounted to two hundred fifty dollars.

We began a practice then which we continued faithfully of never asking a prospective immigrant for a fee and personally refusing any money. If the immigrant's friends or relatives wished to make a contribution to the committee, we urged them to mail us a check made out in the name of the committee. Most often, we rarely heard from the immigrant again, even when we were successful in gaining him or her entry. Still rarer was a contribution sent to the committee.

Through the graciousness of Paul O'Dwyer and the Irish Institute, we were given a small room at 326 West 48th Street for our files and supplies as well as free use of a room for meetings and conferences. It was more than adequate for our needs. As our financial status improved, we installed a telephone, obtained a listing and added an answering machine.

Our general meetings were held once a month at the Irish Institute. The Irish-American newspapers advertised the time and place. The Irish Echo under the supervision of John Thornton, Editor; the Irish Advocate operated by James, Elsie and Pearl O'Connor (whose nephew and son is the actor Carol O'Connor); and the Irish World and Gaelic American owned by the Ford family were always more than generous in printing items about our committee, Each was extremely supportive.

Once each week, in the evening, we opened the office to be available for immigrant inquiries. Father O'Callaghan was available about three times a week, in the afternoons, at the Institute office.
At our first general meeting, the opening of the office was approved. John "Kerry" O'Donnell gave us a loan of five  hundred dollars. Some years later, when we offered to repay the loan, he offered it as a contribution.

A slate of officers was approved. In addition to Father O'Callaghan and myself, Margaret Sullivan was selected as corresponding secretary and John O'Donnell as treasurer. At a later time, we added Thomas Feeney as second Vice-chairman. Tom had served for a time as chairman of the former UICA immigration committee but had resigned due to ill health. Michael Keane of the Kerrymen's Association was added as financial secretary and still later replaced John O'Donnell as treasurer. Michael became a close friend and was instrumental-almost single-handedly- in raising the necessary money for the committee to continue over the years.

One of the committee members correctly recognized that we needed some literature to properly explain our purpose. We prepared a card which informed the public that "it is a committee of American Irish organizations and individuals who have banded together to protect the interests of those members of the Irish race who desire to immigrate to the US. We recognize that the former US immigration policy discriminated against some nationalities. Now, however, we find that the present law discriminates against the Irish."

A few statistics were provided - the monthly average number of Irish immigrants then entering, 99; formerly it was 448. In 1965, 5,378 Irish men and women immigrated to the US. In the first six months of the new law, 696 entered. At the same time, total immigration to the US increased 23,677 over the previous year. We invited all organizations of people of Irish extraction to unite with us in working for fair changes in the new law. We indicated on the hand-out, that we were willing to process and advise those who desired to enter the US. An address and telephone number was provided as well as a list of the sponsoring groups. This was also a means of thanking those who contributed as well as prodding those who had not.

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