Tue, Nov 20, 2007
Trina Vargo should stick to Hollywood galas and stop insulting Irish illegal migrants to the US who are trying to regularise their positions, argues Niall O'Dowd
Trina Vargo, who is head of the US-Ireland Alliance, wrote in a recent Irish Times article (Irish illegals not a special case, Opinion, November 16th) that advocates for the undocumented Irish in America should wait for comprehensive immigration reform rather than try and remedy their situation now.
She implied that Irish-American and Irish Government lobbying for green cards for their community and citizens was racist.
She said current efforts to pass legislation helping the Irish were "morally wrong" and were like putting "lipstick on that pig".
Those were deeply offensive remarks to those tens of thousands of Irish abroad whose futures, and in many cases that of their American-born children, are hanging in the balance.
The US-Ireland Alliance busies itself with an annual Hollywood gala, selling Ryder Cup executive boxes and sending well-heeled Americans, both elite college students and golfers, to Ireland.
Their president's intervention on this issue is puzzling. Making "moral" judgments on undocumented immigrants and their supporters is hardly the expressed aim of the alliance. It appears that board members were not consulted on this grand new project.
In the same edition of The Irish Times, Frank Sharry, executive director of the US National Immigration Forum and one of the most respected experts on the issue, said that a decade may pass before a comprehensive Bill even comes up for consideration so toxic has the issue become in US politics.
Unlike Vargo, Sharry said he was "supportive" of efforts to help the Irish undocumented now with a bilateral deal, but predicted a tough battle in the current climate. Yet it is the only route left, with comprehensive reform a mirage shimmering somewhere over the horizon.
Vargo knows this well, but is essentially telling the Irish undocumented they are "morally wrong" to pursue their own interests.
Luckily she was not around during the era of the Morrison and Donnelly visas which allowed an earlier generation to live freely in America after the Irish in America put together a major lobbying effort.
Those Bills also helped large numbers of immigrants from other countries who piggybacked on the Irish success.
This time around Vargo describes us as a "small group of Irish-Americans". We are anything but. Every major Irish organisation in the US bar the US-Ireland Alliance has signed up in full support of the efforts of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR).
The organisation itself now has over 17,000 members from coast to coast, and brought crowds of over 3,000 to Washington on three separate occasions last year. No other Irish organisation in recent memory has attracted such crowds.
Of course, undocumented Irish are not like the polished Mitchell scholars that the US-Ireland Alliance sends to Ireland every year. They tend to be nannies, waitresses, bartenders, construction workers, many of whom left Ireland before the Celtic Tiger.
They are decent people caught in an indecent situation. They are an inconvenient truth for people like Vargo who is secure with $20 million of Irish taxpayer funding and who prefers to mouth Celtic Tiger platitudes to friends in high places rather than worry about unwashed undocumented.
Yet those of us who have come from Ireland know differently, know the ebb and flow of Irish history, and know that as inevitably as night follows day a boom will be followed by a bust and the trail to America will open up again as it has for successive generations since the Famine.
There is an overwhelming need to try to settle the issue of undocumented Irish in the US for once and for all now before another generation begins to come.
There are already signs. At the recent US-Ireland Forum, Orla Kelleher, head of the Aisling Center in New York, reported a sharp increase in new immigrants coming for assistance to the centre in the past few months. That coincides with a weakening in the Irish economy.
The Irish Government and the Irish-American community are doing the best job possible in very difficult circumstances to deal with the issue.
Both the Government and ILIR agreed to work with each other and a number of other ethnic groups, including Hispanic and Asian, to have a comprehensive reform Bill passed. When that failed it was agreed that an effort to pass a bilateral deal would be made.
In that respect, Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern has made repeated trips to try to secure such a deal. Recently the Dáil voted unanimously to try and secure passage of such a Bill.
As a former Senate staffer Vargo knows only too well that all US legislation, especially immigration law, is loaded with "special deals" that take account of bare-faced politics.
It is not such a dreadful sin, as Vargo would have us believe, for Irish-America to take cognisance of that fact. Chile, Singapore, Nicaragua and Australia are just some of the countries who have cut deals for themselves in recent years. I applaud those countries for their foresight.
Far from preventing others immigrate, a bilateral deal may well show how, in this current toxic atmosphere, the issue of undocumented can be dealt with in a creative way by different countries.
Vargo concludes her comments by stating "it is wrong for the Irish to suggest that 'no Mexican need apply'."
No Irish have ever stated such a thing to my knowledge, and to infer it is downright insulting. Perhaps she might consider sticking to Mitchell scholarships, golf tournaments and Hollywood galas.
Niall O'Dowd is founder and chairman of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform© 2007 The Irish Times