A GROUP of former IRA prisoners living in the U.S. has launched a campaign to secure their legal status here. The organization, Thar Saile (Irish for "overseas"), is made up of former prisoners, many of whom have faced deportation while living, working and raising families in the U.S. for decades. Many are married to American wives and are the fathers of American-born children.In 2000, President Bill Clinton announced that deportation proceedings against the former IRA prisoners would be halted and they would move into "deferred action" status. Although the action was hailed at the time as tangible result of the peace process in Northern Ireland, the men's legal status in the U.S. has yet to be finally resolved.Currently the former prisoners cannot travel to Ireland to visit family. They must also constantly renew their work permits over a period of months on an ongoing basis, frequently jeopardizing their employment in the process.Irish American Unity Conference (IAUC) president Kate McCabe told the Irish Voice, "The position of our organization is that the U.S. government's position toward this group of people is out of step with its entire policy toward the Irish peace process. Martin McGuinness has been to the White House on a number of occasions to meet with President Bush, so it doesn't make sense that they're targeting this group of men."Last week the IAUC released a document entitled "Prisoners of Peace," making the case that the reintegration of former prisoners is a first and critical step in any peace process. In Northern Ireland, they point out, former prisoners are holding elected office and working together to build a new society. Only in the U.S. is their status still unresolved."It's anachronistic that these men are being targeted. Although no formal deportation orders have been filed against them - with the exception of Pl Brennan who is currently jailed in Texas - most of these men have to renew their work permits every 60 to 90 days, which then takes a further month to process," McCabe said."Trying to keep a secure job is made difficult when you know you have to renew your work permit constantly like this. We feel it's harassment."The objective of Thar Saile is to end the uncertainty for the former IRA prisoners and their families by providing them with a permanent legal status and the right to live, work and travel here and abroad unencumbered. This week Thar Saile has promised to launch a broad-based education and communication campaign around this issue, working with their supporters around the U.S. to bring this issue to the attention of all major political candidates.

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