Bart Murphy, the chairman of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, has welcomed the news that the Obama administration is planning a new initiative on the U.S. immigration system later this year.
On Wednesday, Cecilia Muñoz, deputy assistant to the president and director of intergovernmental affairs in the White House, said that the President would begin examining ways in which undocumented workers could gain a path to citizenship.
What the President wants, Muñoz said, is a “policy reform that controls immigration and makes it an orderly system.”
“The Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR) welcomes the new Obama Administration initiative,” Murphy, who recently became chairman of the ILIR, told IrishCentral.
“It’s the start of a new debate. And we at the ILIR will be standing shoulder to shoulder with the various other immigration organizations, pushing for reform, as we have been in the past.”
Sheila Glesson, the executive director of Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers, also welcomed the news. “I’ve been working in this area for a long time,” Gleeson said. “So I am cautiously optimistic. But we have to have hope.”
When a bipartisan immigration bill supported by Bush was defeated in 2007, the Irish undocumented were hugely disappointed. But this new effort at immigration reform is likely to bring some hope to the estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish currently in the U.S.
During his election campaign, President Obama identified comprehensive immigration legislation as a priority during his first term in office.
According to a report in the New York Times, President Obama will speak publicly on the issue in May, and will then convene working groups, which will include lawmakers from both parties, as well as a range of immigration groups. Legislation could begin as early as this fall.
However, he acknowledged last month that this would be an extremely difficult problem to address."I know this is an emotional issue; I know it’s a controversial issue,” he told a town meeting in California. “I know that the people get real riled up politically about this."
He added that immigrants who are long time residents but who don’t have legal status “have to have some mechanism over time to get out of the shadows.”
Bart Murphy warned that Obama is certain to face serious opposition to his plans, particularly now that jobs have become scarcer and the unemployment rate is rising, as politicians try to exploit the immigration issue to further their own ends. “It will be a struggle,” Murphy said.
Sheila Gleeson said that the American public should know that it’s not simply the case that undocumented competing with Americans for jobs – often, in fact, undocumented are often employers themselves.
“I personally know hundreds of undocumented Irish who are employers, and who contribute to the local economy both by employment and by their contribution to the tax base. We have to also to realize that many booms in local economies around the U.S. were created off the back of immigrant labor.”
According to Bart Murphy, now is the time for the ILIR and other like-minded groups to start mobilizing. “It’s like saving hay – you make hay while the sun shines. And it wasn’t the time to save hay last year because of the election, when neither party wanted to debate the issue. Now is the right time,” Murphy, who was recently made chairman of the lobby group, said.
Meanwhile, the rest of the news for Irish immigrants has been mixed. Canada has relaxed immigration rules to enable international students to work in Canada for up to three years after graduating. But the Australian Government announced plans last month plans to restrict immigration by revising their “Critical Skills Lists” so that only immigrants with skills that are most needed come to the country.