Sunday, December 30, 2007

Another year approaches

We would like to wish all our supporters and friends a happy new year. Hopefully 2008 will be the year that sees success in our efforts to help our friends and families in the US. The Friends of Tara are threatening to protest Bertie Ahern's speech to Congress whenever it takes place. Sounds like a good idea to us!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

President McAleese urges everyone to remember Irish abroad this Christmas

[Published: Monday 24, December 2007 - 08:14]

President Mary McAleese says the success of power-sharing in the North has the potential to bring great benefits to the whole island of Ireland.

In her Christmas message Mrs McAleese says the shift from conflict to consensus in Northern Ireland has been dramatic.

President McAleese also acknowledges the lonliness of the undocumented Irish in the United States and their families at home.

She is urging everyone to remember the Irish abroad this Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Father And Son Separated Again for Christmas

Father and son, Brendan and Damien Halpin from Beaumont in Dublin, spoke on RTE this morning about being separated again this Christmas.

Damien has been in the US for 21 years and both himself and his father are hoping for a resolution of this issue so Damien can spend next Christmas in Ireland.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Undocumented Irish in US face another Christmas with no visit home - Ring

Taoiseach must step up campaign for bilateral arrangementFine Gael Community Affairs Spokesman Michael Ring TD has said tens ofthousands of undocumented Irish in the US face another Christmaswithout seeing their families and he hopes the new year will bringnews of progress in regularising their status.In that context Deputy Ring has urged the Taoiseach to drive forwardthe campaign for a bilateral arrangement with the US administration."The grim reality of another Christmas where they are unable to visitIreland for fear of not being allowed to return home is facing theundocumented Irish in the US and this year they also face increasedfear of deportation."A recent Fine Gael motion urging a bilateral agreement attractedcross-party support and there is no doubt that Irish people here athome strongly want to see this matter resolved. I am pleased that theTaoiseach has confirmed he raised this issue during a telephoneconversation with Senator Ted Kennedy but I urge him to step up thecampaign for a bilateral agreement and throw his weight behind everyeffort for a deal for the undocumented Irish. After another sadChristmas for the undocumented Irish and their families here Isincerely wish that the new year will bring new hope of progress onthis issue."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bilateral divide

This article was published in this weeks Irish Echo, New York. The paper came out yesterday:

Fears deal will leave out undocumented

By Ray O'Hanlon

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will address a joint session of Congress at a deate to be decided in the New Year. And he has promised to raise the plight of the undocumented Irish before the assembled senators and representatives.

But fears are being voiced this week that those very same undocumented will be left out of a possible bilateral visa deal between the U.S. and Ireland.

The idea of a bilateral has been stirring for the past couple of years but has risen to greater prominence since the collapse earlier this year of a comprehensive immigration reform effort in the Congress.

Ahern and other Irish government members, including foreign minister Dermot Ahern, have spoken of the possibility of a deal that would facilitate easier movement of Irish citizens into the U.S. economy and the same for American wishing to live in Ireland.

Minister Ahern has stated that Ireland has the legal leeway to negotiate a bilateral with the U.S. within the parameters of European Union immigration rules.

Taoiseach Ahern, speaking on Irish radio, spoke of the possibility of a bilateral but in the same breath appeared to suggest that it would not encompass the undocumented Irish already in the U.S.

"There's a chance of us doing a direct arrangement with America, but that doesn't cover those people who had difficulties in the past. We can do a bilateral arrangement that will help new people, but it doesn't deal with the undocumented,' Ahern told the RTE show "Morning Ireland."

Ahern's words prompted immediate criticism from the Ireland-based lobby group, Families and Friends of the Irish Undocumented.

"The friends and families of the Irish undocumented are concerned at the news that the Irish government is going to leave our families and friends out of any visa arrangement," said spokeswoman Kate Hickey.

"The Irish government can't just forget about them and think no-one will notice or care.
"If the taoiseach goes to Washington and addresses the United States Congress without first having solved the plight of the Irish undocumented there will be thousands of us in the Capitol waiting to see him," she said.

"Our friends and families have waited too long and worked too hard to let this effort fail."
Hickey's group recently picked Leinster House in Dublin during a Dáil debate on the undocumented. That debate led to a joint motion agreed to by all parties, in support of seeking relief for the tends of thousands of Irish in the U.S. daily living in the shadows of immigration illegality.

this article available at :

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Annual trips to the States

It has now been 36 days since we picketed outside the Dáil and since the Dáil decided that they would take action on the undocumented plight. Still we have heard nothing back on what will be done for our friends and families.

I’m sure everyone has a similar story to mine. Right now my parents are over in New York visiting my sister and brother-in-law. This year will be another year without them at the dinner table. My father who turned 65 this year decided he had to go because he realised he hadn’t see his daughter in three years, when he visited last.

Last night I spent the evening wrapping presents for my sister and her husband as my brother will be going over to visit them on Friday. He makes a conscious effort to see them every year and coming up to Christmas this seems even more touching.

It’s funny to read about all the Irish going over to the States on their shopping trips at this time of year. I wonder how many of those travelling to go shopping will also be visiting their friends and families who, yet again, won’t be coming home this Christmas.

Remember to call / email / leave a message with your local politicians to remind them who will be missing at your dinner table this Christmas.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Irish Times Profiles Undocumented Irish in the US

MEANWHILE, IN THE Bronx, in a warm, modestly-furnished, rented apartment, Mícheál and Cheryl McMahon are into their 15th year as Irish illegals. The couple came over in the last pre-Celtic Tiger wave, certain only that their future did not lie in the Donegal of 1993. He was a carpenter who left school at 16 to learn his trade: "There was no Celtic Tiger. There was no work. I was on the dole. I remember I was in my apartment in Bundoran one winter night at around 11 o'clock and looking out the window and it must be that a bale of hay fell off a truck but it was like something you'd see in a Western, hay blowing down an empty street and it was like a sign from God . . ."

He was 20. Young, unmarried and mobile, the couple got three-month US visas: "We didn't know whether we were going to like it. We might have been back." The nature of the farewells suggested otherwise. "There was a big party, a kind of American wake". His father, Mick, was too upset to get out of bed and say goodbye when they left for the airport.

After a few months living with a family friend from Pettigo, Co Donegal, Mícheál got a job as a labourer. "I began to like it. I joined up with the Fermanagh team. You made friends and it became a home away from home - playing in Gaelic Park on a Sunday, with a barbecue, the band playing, the lovely summer weather." Cheryl got a "good job" as a nanny on the Upper East Side, working 14-hour days from 7am. Mícheál moved up from labourer to carpenter.

"Then they took me into the office and trained me, paid for my engineering classes at night school. Now I'm senior project manager. That would never have happened in Ireland. It was them pushing me".

For the first few years, everyone was visiting them and their status didn't worry them. But when a lottery visa scheme came up, they applied for it through a sponsor. Meanwhile, around Christmas 2000, they had decided they wanted to get married at home in Donegal. Everything was going smoothly. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) - now the US Citizenship and Immigration Services - had indicated by letter that they would be approved. Mícheál checked the wedding dates with his lawyer to ensure that their case would not be harmed by leaving the country at that time. They were told to go ahead, but that turned out to be bad advice. "Because of that, I went home one day before I should have so I wasn't able to prove that I was in the country on that particular date". The McMahons were snookered.

Then came 9/11. "That put everyone back at the bottom of the pile." They've had two children since then, Mícheál junior and Íosa, and both are entitled to American passports. But the parents are legal ghosts and, for an outsider, the complexity of each particular case is difficult to fathom. After 9/11, he says, the crackdown on companies employing illegal immigrants made it too risky for many. "After a second offence, they can close a company down." Although he had paid taxes for 10 years, he never got a social insurance number. Others who came out before 9/11 were luckier, he says: "They managed to get into a union and are paying taxes". Without a number, the system is effectively closed.

They cannot get a mortgage, so they will always be renting. He cannot travel internally or get a driver's licence. "There is always the danger now of being picked up. I don't travel inside America; I never leave the Bronx. For vacation, we go to Manhattan [ a 30-minute train ride] for a week and stay in a hotel in Times Square".

And of course there is no question of a visit to Ireland.
Apart from the wedding trip, only Cheryl has been home in 14 years, for her father's funeral. "That was a massive risk", she says. "I wasn't stopped but that's the luck of the draw". In the meantime, a grandmother has died; a sister got married; Mícheál's youngest sister - seven months old when he left - has grown into her teens without getting to know her only brother. Next year, his parents will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. For Cheryl's parents, Mícheál junior and Íosa are their only grandchildren. The separation cuts deep. "It's no life really," he concedes.

Yet, it seems, there is no going back.
"There was no boom when I was there. No matter how bad things are in New York, there's always work, you can always be a delivery boy. I've made a new life here, I've got two American kids. I don't think there is anyone more deserving. I've spent a third of my life here. How long is the boom going to last in the north of Ireland? What would Ireland do if 25,000 people arrived back there next week ? Is Ireland willing to pay for my kids to go to school, for healthcare? Will it have a house for me and a job ? I don't think so."

He sees the obvious disconnect between his case and the fact that so many others like him returned home during the boom that New York's GAA is struggling to assemble teams. "When we came over, there were 16 hurling teams, now there are only four. A lot went home when the [ immigration reform] bill failed in the American congress. But a lot have decided to come back again. I know two bricklayers who were legal and who went home but are back again because the work is not there for them. Another family moved back [ to Ireland] for 18 months and hated it. They couldn't afford to live the sort of life they had here. They hadn't the same freedom at all." The younger elements of the diaspora can be surprisingly unsentimental about the oul' sod.

MÍCHEÁL PRIDES HIMSELF on the fact that he has "never, ever claimed anything off the state". Their private health insurance costs $245 (€167) a month. Mícheál junior's kindergarten is $5,000 (€3,415) a year: "He won't be a burden on the state, even though he's totally entitled to it", says Mícheál firmly. "My dream is of the day when I can call myself a legal citizen of New York and walk in and pay my taxes."

In that case, they're stuck hard, in a climate as hostile to immigrants as the US has ever seen. "I've never been in trouble a day in my life. But I can't apply for legalisation. I entered this country illegally and that's it."

It's time the Irish Government did something, he says. "My brother came through Shannon and said it's like an American army base. How many other countries are doing that? Yet Bertie Ahern can't just call George Bush . . . The action group at home have met politicians such as Ahern and Eamon Ryan but it's always the same thing: 'This is a complex issue.' I thought governments were meant to deal with complex issues." Cheryl interjects gently: "It is complex. This isn't only about the Irish."

Friday, December 7, 2007

Taoiseach to speak to Senator Kennedy

Taoiseach to raise illegal Irish with Senator Kennedy

The Taoiseach is due to discuss the issue of illegal Irish immigrants in America with US Senator Ted Kennedy this afternoon.

Bertie Ahern says the issue will be raised during a telephone conversation that will cover a number of issues.

Recent efforts by the US Congress to regularise the status of all illegal immigrants failed due to opposition from some politicians.

Support groups for the estimated 50,00 to 60,000 undocumented Irish citizens in the States are now seeking a special deal for Irish people that would exclude immigrants from Mexico and other countries.

Taoiseach to Address Congress on Undocumented Issue

Taoiseach says Congress address 'an honour'
Friday, 7 December 2007 10:23

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said that it will be an honour for Ireland, and for him personally, when he addresses the joint Houses of Congress in Washington early next year.
Mr Ahern said he would use the opportunity to raise the issue of the numbers of undocumented Irish living in the US.

The announcement was made last night in Washington during a function for Northern Ireland's First and Deputy First ministers, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness.

Last night the Taoiseach said he was surprised but very pleased to have such an opportunity.
Earlier this year the Taoiseach addressed both Houses of Parliament in Westminster in London but he said the historic ties between the US and Ireland will make this a special occasion.

Story from RTÉ News:

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Week ends on high note for all of us!

The week ended on a high note for all of us with friends and families in the US.

Bruce Morrison, the man behind the Morrison visas which helped so many Irish in the 1990s, penned a brilliant piece in The Irish Times on Saturday.

The article, which is posted here practically spells out how the Irish Government should approach the US Government. There's no talk of "special deals," or "amnesties", just a clear headed and pragmatic approach to solving this problem once and for all.

It's clearly in all our interests to create what Morrison calls a "culture of compliance," and a new permanent legal path for Irish people to emigrate to the US.

Irish pushing open door in America

The Irish Times,Sat, Dec 01, 2007

If the Government did not lobby the US government on immigration, it would lose influence in Washington, argues Bruce Morrison

Dan O'Brien certainly likes lecturing the Government about its benighted policies and practices (Focus on Irish illegals in US is policy failure, Opinion and Analysis, November 29th). In January 2005, he instructed on the failure of the peace process to deal effectively with "militant republicanism" and warned that it would "take a generation" for the transformation to democratic rule in the North to take hold. I am sure he meant well, but the Government wisely ignored his counsel and kept on course to achieve the May 8th milestone of devolved government in the North.

I am sure that he means well again with his lecture on the politics of Washington and the conduct of foreign policy as it relates to US immigration. As someone who has actually legislated in Washington, advised former US president Bill Clinton, and lobbies on immigration today, I am confident that he is just as mistaken in his current advice. But first it is essential to correct the record. O'Brien tells Cabinet Ministers to stop "pestering" and "browbeating" officials and legislators in Washington, who they have "harangued" on the immigration issue. Who is your source Dan? I have been working with Cabinet Ministers and other representatives of the Irish government in Washington on immigration, the North, economic investment and other issues for 25 years. I have never seen nor heard of any such behaviour.

Relations between Irish political and diplomatic leaders and their US counterparts are as warm and cordial as anyone could imagine.

But this is about more than courteous exchanges. O'Brien has the relationship completely backwards. He thinks that if the Government leadership would just keep quiet until his idea of an important issue comes up, the US government will then snap to attention and do what it is told. Not likely. Political influence is like a muscle. The more it is used, the stronger it gets. Those who can garner political victories are the ones who get listened to the next time they come calling. In Washington, the meek do not inherit the earth.

Leave it to the Irish-Americans, says Dan. But he has it backwards again. The only reason Ireland punches above its weight in Washington is the political impact of 40 million Irish-Americans. When the Irish Government and Irish America work in tandem, it is a potent team. That is the story of the immigration victories of the Donnelly and Morrison visas and it was the story of the peace process over the past 15 years.

Both the Irish public and the Irish-American public want the immigration plight of the undocumented Irish in the US addressed. What better than for both to show their political and practical unity on the issue?

The single-greatest asset that Ireland has in its relationship with the US is the strength and influence of the huge Irish-American diaspora. This community has been replenished over the past two centuries by repeated waves of arrivals. One generation of the Celtic Tiger does not change those fundamentals.

It is deeply important for Ireland to continue to have a footprint in the US. Unfortunately, US immigration policy has made legal immigration increasingly difficult - so that only 1,000 Irish got green cards out of a million issued in 2005.

The Government is better placed than ever since the success of the peace process and the end of the old disputes to work with that diaspora to address this problem. They have given every indication of grasping that opportunity, including their role in the recent US-Ireland Forum. The immigration issue is a key element of that relationship.

An opinion poll to be released next week will show that 87 per cent of the Irish public believes working on the immigration issue is a major priority. Irish-America feels the same way, as demonstrated by the massive support at rallies for the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform. The Government would be seriously remiss if it did not continue to work on an issue of such importance.

Worse perhaps than all the naive speculation about how "foreign policy" will be damaged by Ireland showing its strength in Washington on the immigration issue, is O'Brien's complete distortion of the proposals that the Government is supporting. The Government is looking for a more substantial number of visa slots to assure a continuing flow of legal immigrants to the US, coupled with a reciprocal commitment of easier entry for a like number of Americans to work in Ireland. The goal is to end the illegal flow and create a "culture of compliance" with US immigration law for those who wish to work and live in the US.

It is in this context of opening the door wider and ending unauthorised entries and stays that the Government also proposes to let the current undocumented be eligible to join that new legal flow by coming home to get visas and be allowed to return without being barred for 10 years, as would happen under current law.

Contrary to being offensive to US politicians struggling with immigration, this approach is music to their ears. Here is the Government offering to create an opportunity for Americans to work in Ireland and to remove the barriers to the Irish doing the same in the US on a fully legal basis. And the plan does not involve amnesty, but rather a return home and a waiver of the waiting time to go back using authorities already long recognised in US law.

No one can be sure if this plan will succeed, but it will not be because anyone resents the attempt. In the US, politicians expect that other governments will pursue their interests.

Former congressman Bruce Morrison was the author of the Morrison visas legislation and a founding member of the Irish-American peace delegation to Northern Ireland, beginning in 1993

© 2007 The Irish Times