Though the Senate handily passed its “Gang of Eight” comprehensive immigration reform bill last week by a vote of 68 to 32, Irish activists are aware that a similar result in the more conservative House of Representatives will be more difficult to come by.
However, the president of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform has urged Irish Americans to keep up the lobbying pressure on Republican House members around the country, and to ignore any negative headlines that may be generated by members opposed to the reform drive.
“It’s important for us all to stay focused on what we have to do, which is keep the pressure on Republicans to get on board with reform,” ILIR President Ciaran Staunton told the Irish Voice.
“There are going to be various bills in the House, and some of them will be bad bills. But people shouldn’t be disheartened by that. Our goal is to get the House to pass a bill by the August summer break that can go into conference with the Senate bill when Congress resumes.”
The Senate bill passed with its Irish Schumer visas proposal intact. The provision in the sweeping bill would grant 10,500 temporary work visas on an annual basis solely to Irish applicants possessing the equivalent of a high school degree or work training. New York Senator Charles Schumer, the principal Democratic author of the Senate bill, has made Irish Schumer visa passage one of his signature immigration reform goals.
ILIR released a statement after Senate passage praising the vote.
“This is the best opportunity in 50 years for Irish America to open a door that has been closed,” Staunton said.
“It is also the golden opportunity for our 50,000 undocumented to get started on their pathway to citizenship. Now is the time for Irish Americans across the country to call their member of Congress and urge support for the immigration bill.”
ILIR will host a series of information meetings in the coming weeks to keep Irish Americans informed about events on Capitol Hill, and will work closely with Irish groups throughout the U.S. to coordinate an intense lobbying effort. Next Wednesday there is a meeting scheduled for Boston – visit the ILIR Facebook page for details – and Staunton says the organization will also visit Irish hubs across the U.S.
“We do not intend the Irish to get left out on the cutting room floor again,” Staunton said in the ILIR press release.
“This bill provides for the first time in years a real chance for the Irish undocumented to come out of the shadows and have a better way of life.
“What is needed now is for everybody both in Ireland and the U.S. to use their contacts and get backing from the House for this bill.”
Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore issued a statement praising the Senate move.
Gilmore said he will travel to the U.S. “in the coming weeks” to consult with the government’s contacts and friends about the reform effort.
“This is a very positive development that takes us another step closer towards addressing the problems faced by undocumented Irish emigrants in the US and allowing them to emerge from the shadows,” said Gilmore.
“I strongly welcome the provisions in the Bill passed by the Senate to address the concerns of our undocumented and the specific E-3 provisions for Ireland that provide a legal pathway for the future.
“I am particularly pleased that the bill includes provisions that will allow for continuation of the summer J-1 visa program that has meant so much to successive generations of young Irish people.”