The Chicago Celts lead the fight for immigration reform
President Higgins supports Immigration Reform in Chicago
President Higgins touched down in Chicago May 2014 where he met with Irish community leaders and received an update on efforts to find a solution to the plight of the 50,000 undocumented Irish emigrants in the USA. As emigration from Ireland reaches famine-level rates, the Irish are finding that the once welcoming door to America is increasingly shut.
Changes in immigration law from1952 to the present have made it more difficult to immigrate to the U.S. Before 1952, thousands of Irish were able to join family and friends here. Since that time, the flow has slowed to a trickle. Last year over a million green cards were issued yet the Irish barely managed to scrape more than a thousand, which was one of the lowest totals of the more than 200 countries listed in statistics released by the Department of Homeland Security.
Advocates like Billy Lawless and Cyril Regan of the Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform have been pushing for an immigration bill that will legalize 11 million undocumented immigrants, including the Irish. Such a bill passed the U.S. Senate last year. It establishes a path to citizenship for the undocumented and includes a provision for the Irish E3 Visa – a renewable two year visa – that will allow 10,500 Irish people to come and work in the USA each year. The bill has the support of Republicans and Democrats but the process has stalled in the House of Representatives, where Republican Leader John Boehner refuses to call a vote over concerns from his more right-wing members, who fear amnesty for millions of immigrants from Latin America.
The Irish have been key players in pushing for immigration reform and have taken the lead with other immigrant groups nationwide. In the face of federal inaction they have focused on changing state laws that affect immigrants. The Chicago Celts recently took the lead in passing a law that provides undocumented immigrants in Illinois with a driver’s license, a move that was followed by eight other states including California and Massachusetts.
The pressure is ratcheting up for the Obama administration to act as immigration reform languishes in Congress, while over 400,000 people are deported every year. On his visit, President Higgins heard first-hand how the Irish in Illinois are leading the fight for another state law aimed at curbing deportations. After meeting with undocumented Irish he expressed his desire to see immigration reform as soon as possible.
Gerry, an undocumented man from Co. Tipperary, told the President how he had had to watch the funeral of his beloved grandfather via Skype last year, as he was unable to return home to pay his respects. Gerry was featured in an interview by RTE News and his story touched the President so much that he highlighted the undocumented in each speech he made thereafter.