As the Senate Judiciary Committee kicks off what is expected to be a lengthy process of debating and amending the immigration bill on Thursday, the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR), the group dedicated to creating a new legal pathway for the Irish in America, is gearing up for a major battle.

They will hold a fundraiser on Thursday, May 23 to bolster its lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C.

“This is now probably the last opportunity the Irish American community has to address the long term issue of legal access to America for Irish immigrants,” ILIR president Ciaran Staunton told the Irish Voice. 

To make the push for comprehensive reform, ILIR has organized in almost every state with Irish American communities, Staunton explains. “This is the last opportunity for Irish America to pry open the golden door for those who want to come here from Ireland,” he adds.

Since the last big effort to achieve reform several years ago with Senators Edward Kennedy and John McCain leading the effort, ILIR has stayed working on Capitol Hill, Staunton explains. A perception among some in the Irish community that the lobby group had wound down many of its operations is inaccurate said Staunton. 

“In the last number of years we’ve built up relationships on both sides of the aisle with very senior people in the House and Senate. The last two major immigration initiatives in 1965 and 1986 in the United States had huge effects on the Irish community and their effects are still being felt,” he said. 

“The 1965 Act locked us out,” Staunton explains. “We weren’t at the table for the 1986 Act other than to get the Donnelly and the short term Morrison visas. So when the hearing on the new bill commences in Washington ILIR will retain consultants and lobbyists on both sides of the aisle, and we will also follow up on all the support it has secured around the country.”

Behind the scenes the relationships ILIR has built with senators and other leaders has continued. 

“This is not the time for the previous big demonstrations we took to Washington,” Deirdre Foy, a volunteer ILIR activist explained about the large-scale rallies ILIR organized during the Kennedy-McCain efforts.

“This is the time to quietly win over lawmakers to our side. Now is the time to fundraise to support our continuing efforts.”

To that end the second annual Annie Moore Awards, named in honor of the Irish girl who was the first passenger registered through the immigration station at Ellis Island in 1892, will be held to honor prominent Irish Americans for their ongoing efforts on behalf of the Irish immigrant community.

This year ILIR has chosen to honor Brendan Murray, president of the Newport Group, a leading financial services firm, with the Patrick J. Donaghy Award, named after the retired chairman and founder of Structure Tone.

The second award recipient will be Michael Brewster, managing director of Credit Suisse, the international financial services group. 

“Brendan Murray came here in the fifties and Michael Brewster came here in the nineties. Both rose to the top of their professions and they both share our aim of prizing open that golden door for Irish people,” Staunton said.

“We are not seeking preferential treatment. We are seeking equal treatment.”

The Annie Moore ceremony will be held at the New York Athletic Club on Central Park South on May 23, with tickets selling from $500 to $10,000. All monies raised will fund ILIR’s efforts to create a new legal pathway for the Irish in America.

“We’ve been doing a lot of behind the scenes work continuously with the friends we’ve made in D.C. over the years,” said Foy. “They’re very aware of the Irish portion of this reform push. The relationships we’ve established are standing us in good stead. We’re talking to the right people to make sure we’re not forgotten.”

In recent months the Irish lobby group has been invited to the White House and to every major briefing on immigration reform. On each occasion their message has been the same -- there will not be comprehensive immigration reform unless there is legal access to America for future flow from Ireland.

“I think it’s important that people check out our Facebook page,” says Staunton. “We work very closely with other national Irish American organizations, and as this bill gets moving we will be all our members to be making calls to ensure we’re moving lawmakers to vote against the No Irish Need Apply 1965 Act.

“If we are successful with this bill then 50,000 undocumented will have a path to legalization and the future flow portion will allow the Irish to legally come to America in the years to come,” Staunton said.