Undocumented Irish in the US Motion

November 6th, 2007 - Pat Breen

^ Private Members’ Business. ^

^^ Undocumented Irish in the United States: Motion. ^^

Deputy Pat Breen speaking in Dail Eireann on Tuesday, 6th November 2007 on the issue of the undocumented Irish in the United States.

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. I congratulate Deputy Ring for introducing this timely motion. We all know what has happened in the US since the tragic events of 11 September 2001 and the introduction of the REAL ID Act. The US Government is now requiring all states to produce driving licences which prove that one has US citizenship or the right to stay in the US. The new laws affect many Irish people, including my constituents from County Clare, some of whom are afraid to show off their saffron and blue county colours in case they draw attention to themselves. That is how serious the situation is at the moment.

When I pass through Shannon Airport, I often see a picture of John F. Kennedy waving goodbye as he left Ireland in 1963. If the current US immigration laws had been in force when his great-grandfather, Patrick Kennedy, left Ireland, John F. Kennedy would never have been President of the United States – that is the funny thing about it.

Anyone who has been to the US recently will have seen signs calling on the US Administration to legislate in support of the undocumented Irish. When I see such signs, I am reminded that most of those who went from Ireland to the US many generations ago never came back. The same thing could happen again. Deputy Ring spoke about men and women who cannot come back to Ireland for funerals. I have heard of a case of a man who had to listen to his father’s funeral on a mobile telephone because he could not return to this country. It is funny that well-educated young men and women are having to hide in US cities. Irish people are being treated badly even though the Irish heritage of many American people is paraded annually on St. Patrick’s Day, when the biggest parades take place in the US. The talk now in Gaelic Park in New York is not about hurling, camogie or football; it is about the crackdown on the illegal Irish.

They stay illegally in America because they cannot get a long-term visa or a green card – which is virtually impossible to get. As Deputy Hayes stated, in 2006 only 54 lottery visas and 1,906 green cards out of a total of 50,000 were given to the Irish. People such as Niall O’Dowd must be congratulated for their Trojan work ensuring that the Irish voice is heard in the immigration debate in the United States. The comprehensive immigration reform Act 2007 would have provided legal status to many of the illegal Irish residing in America and the Bill was supported by many high profile Senators but unfortunately it did not go through.

I am delighted the Government has accepted this motion. I urge the Government to include these proposals to extend the US customs and border protection facility for Shannon Airport as these proposals would require the adoption of a US-Irish intergovernmental treaty. I urge the Government to work towards this treaty as soon as possible because it would allow passengers travelling to the United States to be regarded as domestic passengers once they leave the Irish base.

Deputy Michael Ring moving the Agreed Dail Motion on the undocumented Irish in the United States – Tuesday, 6th November 2007.

Deputy Michael Ring: I move:

“That Dail Eireann, recognises:

– the very difficult situation for thousands of Irish people of undocumented status living and working in the United States;

– the difficulties that the undocumented Irish experience because of their irregular legal status and the fear of deportation;

– that the undocumented deserve enormous credit for their highly effective public awareness and lobbying campaign in the United States, particularly through the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform;

– the ongoing efforts of the Government, members of the Oireachtas and the undocumented Irish themselves to bring this situation to a satisfactory resolution;

– the strong economic ties between the island of Ireland and the United States and the contribution that Irish emigrants make to economic, social and cultural life in the US; and

– that efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform in the United States Congress have so far been unsuccessful;

welcomes:

– the commitment of the Government and the Oireachtas to finding a satisfactory solution for the undocumented and to creating new reciprocal immigration arrangements between Ireland and the United States aimed at further enhancing our close bilateral relationship; and

– the strong support given by many members of the United States Congress to Irish issues, including efforts to resolve the difficulties facing the undocumented;

supports:

– ongoing discussions at the highest level with the US Administration and Congress to establish reciprocal bilateral arrangements which would benefit Irish and American citizens seeking to work and travel in our two countries; and

– the strong commitment of the Oireachtas and the Government to continued engagement with the US Administration and Congress to resolve the difficulties experienced by the undocumented.”

I am delighted that an agreement has been reached between Fine Gael and the Government so that we will not have to divide the House on this motion. It is only fitting given the political significance of this issue that a joint motion was brought.

I wish to share my time with Deputies McGinley, Perry, Tom Hayes, Neville, McHugh and Breen, by agreement.