The Irish undocumented have warmly welcomed the news that the Obama administration will address the issue of immigration reform in the next couple of months.
Many of them have been living in the U.S. for many years and haven’t been home in a very long time.
Lisa from Co. Donegal told IrishCentral that the news came as “an utter shock” but she was elated.
“I really can’t believe that Obama is even thinking about touching such a hot issue this year,” said the undocumented girl who has been living in upstate New York for four years.
“But I am over the moon. If he (Obama) does manage to get it through both houses then I’ll hopefully get a visa out of it and that is worth ten Christmases to me,” she said.
Lisa said she isn’t worried about a fine or back taxes, she just wants to be able to stay in the U.S. long term and travel back and forth to see her family whenever she feels like it.
“I wonder if we will have green cards by December if Obama manages to get this pushed through?” she questions.
“Either way I’m delighted that he is even considering some kind of legislation that would allow the undocumented to stay in the U.S long term,” said Lisa.
“It’s about time that someone has the neck to take out the strong red necks in Congress that have been anti immigration for a long time.”
Lisa, who works in the bar in Manhattan, went out for a beer over the weekend to “celebrate the news.”
“Honest to god, we actually toasted Obama on this issue. Now I guess it’s just a waiting game,” she said.
Deirdre, from Co. Dublin and has been living in Queens for nearly 10 years, said she was also “very happy” to hear the President’s comments last week.
“I am hopeful that the third time is a charm,” laughs Deirdre referring to the past two comprehensive immigration reform bills that failed to pass congress during the Bush administration.
“It's a very delicate issue that has been polarizing in the past so I'm hoping that President Obama will bring his calm assertiveness to bare on it,” said Deirdre.
Executive Director of the Irish Immigration Pastoral Center in San Francisco and active member of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR), Celine Kennelly told IrishCentral that she welcomed President Obama’s move to bring the debate on comprehensive immigration reform back to the table this year. “But,” she said, “we are very much aware that this is a difficult time to tackle such a contentious issue and we will not be raising our hopes too quickly.”
Kennelly pointed out that the U.S. immigration system “is broken” and “needs to be fixed.”
“The Irish community in San Francisco will certainly be to the fore to support any initiative to fix the immigration system for once and for all and help our undocumented community to move on with their lives,” she said.
Dermot, a Co. Kildare export, has been living in the U.S. for 18 years without papers.
Dermot has little faith left in politicians who promise him the world.
“I’ve no belief in any of this at all. After 18 years here I’ve heard it all before. Politicians have promised it all to nothing and us has come about yet so I just don’t know.
Disheartened at this stage in life, Dermot who said he has given up the fight for the undocumented and is living life day by day.
“I’d only believe it if I was sitting in front of an immigration fella in an immigration office,” said Dermot referring to a time when one would be called for an interview by the Department of Homeland Security.
“Any politician at the minute that promises to bring about immigration reform I have no belief in,” he said.
The Executive Director of the ILIR, Kelly Fincham, said: “We are cautiously optimistic however we have been brought to the altar twice before and hope that this time the president can gain the support he needs in the senate.”
In the mean time the ILIR are pursuing talks with the Irish Government on an alternative route.
“We are holding an information meeting in Rory Dolan’s on Wednesday, May 6th at 7.30pm to address concerns within the community,” said Fincham.
“Bruce Morrison will also be at the meeting. We want to keep the community informed that every and any development taking place that involves the future of undocumented Irish immigrants in the U.S.”
Obama plans to speak publicly about the issue in May, administration officials said. During the summer he will convene working groups, including lawmakers from both parties and a range of immigration groups, to begin discussing possible legislation sooner rather than later.
Tuesday The New York Times reported that two major U.S. labor heads have agreed to support immigration reform, something in the past they were set against.
John Sweeney, the son of Irish immigrants and President of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL/CIO) and Joe Hansen, president of Change to Win said on Monday that they supported a bill that allowed undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. a path of citizenship. Although opposing a large addition of temporary working programs, they said they would support some kind of worker program.
“The labor movement will work together to make sure that the White House as well as Congress understand that we speak about immigration reform with one voice,” Sweeney said in a statement to The New York Times.