Walking around the Irish neighborhood in the Bronx and Woodlawn on Sunday I got a sense of a great absence.
At a time when 100,000 are set to leave Ireland by April 2012 the silence on the streets of the Bronx, where new arrivals are still quite rare was deafening.
McLean Avenue and Woodlawn were busy enough, but nothing like what I saw in Kilburn on a recent visit to London where young Irish emigrants are teeming in by the planeload.
Ireland’s loss should have been America’s opportunity, but somewhere along the line, going back to the disastrous 1965 immigration act which ended most emigration from Europe, we lost the plot
That bill was conceived to end the European dominance of emigration to America which was a fair enough objective and to allow other nations access, but in the process it effectively ended European immigration altogether.
Senator Edward Kennedy, who was a key figure in passage of that bill told me he had never intended that to be the consequence, but that is how it all has ended up.
No Irish need apply nowadays as assuredly as it did after Famine times.
This should be a great new era for the Irish in New York, the replenishment of Irish organizations, businesses and social gatherings like what happened in the 1920, 1950s, 1980s.
That thirty -year cycle of emigration is underway again now in Ireland but the preferred destinations are not the Bronx and all points west and north but Australia and Canada.
Sure there will be some who will come to America, but the reality of living illegally here has by now hit home in Ireland,
Back in the 1980s, thanks to a concerted Irish government and Irish community push, we managed to win the Morrison and Donnelly visa programs which took care of the undocumented who lived here then.
This time around we have not been so lucky. The Irish government was unbearably arrogant about immigration for several years having consigned it to the past in the midst of the Celtic Tiger, despite warnings that it inevitably would resume.
Thus, when opportunity was snatched up by a country like Australia which did a deal for its citizens to get 10,000 a year renewable work but not immigrant visas a year successive Irish authorities stood idly by
The Kennedy/McCain immigration bill was as close as we have come and the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform of which I was a founder, turned out thousands of people in Washington on many occasions in support of it.
It was a far from perfect bill but post 9/11 and the xenophobia in America against foreigners it was by far the best vehicle. Alas, it came untracked.
So now we have essentially no obvious vehicle but perhaps it is time to put on the thinking caps again. The floods from Ireland will not stop for several years, already there are signs that despite the consequences, many are starting to come here.
We need to help them out, to begin the quest again to equalize the immigration laws and allow Irish to come here legally in acceptable numbers.