There was an urgent call this week by retired judge John Collins of the Bronx for the Ancient Order of Hibernians to get behind the push for immigration reform this year.

Collins knows of what he speaks. He played a key role back in 1965 in opposing the Immigration and Nationality Act that shut the door on the Irish coming legally to America.

Alas he was one of a brave few who were focused on that issue in the Irish community.  Very few realized just how devastating a blow the 1965 act would be to the Irish community in America. 

The judge knows well that back then that the leadership of Irish America utterly missed the significance of what was occurring in Congress as European access to the U.S. was essentially ended.

Now he is saying we do not need to make the same mistake again, and he is appealing to America’s largest Irish group to ensure they are part of the battle.

As he noted, “The national AOH leaders need to be in contact with the legislators and determine what is possible and what is not and what the Irish should be looking for.

“You as individual members can keep the pressure on those national AOH leaders. Only 311 Irishmen and women were able to receive documented immigrant visas in 2011.

“We are no better than any other nationality, but we do have some bragging rights and we deserve a fair shake.”

He is fully correct. We are no mean people when it comes to our contribution to the United States, and we need to make our case loudly and clearly.

Every other country will be making sure their concerns are listened to, as we have seen in the recent past when countries like Australia, Chile and Mexico made side deals for their citizens.

And who can blame them? Yet, we Irish seem almost timid at times to ask on behalf of our citizens, both undocumented and future flow.

It is no time to be bashful when legislation is under review, and it looks for the first time in many years that comprehensive immigration reform is a real possibility.

Irish America and the Irish government need to prioritize this issue this St. Patrick’s Day over all else. The parading and revelry is fine, but we cannot lose sight of the serious issue that lurks for so many of our community.

This is the year to make the breakthrough.

Major support for immigration reform in the United StatesCNN