Thursday, February 14, 2008

Irish American Anger as Bertie Backs Off On Undocumented Irish

Irish Americans have reacted with anger to the latest statement from Taoiseach Bertie Ahern on the undocumented Irish.

This week the Taosieach said there was no hope of any deal on the Irish undocomented in the US and his comments sparked fury among the Irish in the US, and their families back home.

ILIR vice-chairman Ciaran Staunton, who succesfully tackled Mitt Romney on US television over his anti-immigrant campaign, said he was extremely disappointed in the Irish Government.

"Why didn't they look for a bilateral visa deal that would facilitate Irish and U.S. citizens alike," he said. "The Irish government has closed the door on a bilateral. They have clearly walked away from the undocumented," Staunton said.

His words were echoed by undocumented Irish immigrants in New York.

Deirdre Foy, who has been living in the U.S. for 11 years, expressed her upset with Ahern's attitude towards her situation. "I'm very disappointed with his comments. Both he and (Foreign Minister) Dermot Ahern have promised our community that every effort was being made by the Irish government to rectify the Irish undocumented situation in the U.S.," she said.

Asking if Ahern had forgotten the cross-party agreement that was entered into last fall in which all Irish political parties pledged to do their utmost for the undocumented, Ms Foy said, "Those of us here in the U.S. don't have the same short term memory like they do and neither do our friends and family in Ireland. His comments have not been taken lightly on either side of the Atlantic."

Samantha Melia, who has been living in New York for eight years with her husband Liam, was also upset with Ahern's comments."He is an absolute disgrace — I just don't understand the whole thing. There are other countries that negotiate deals, such as Australia or Chile. Why can't we?" she said.

Ms Melia feels the Irish government has left down its Irish citizens. "Bertie will go down in history for the man who turned away an opportunity that was created by the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR) to get status for the undocumented Irish," she said. "We give the United States Shannon so why can't we get 10,000 visas for our citizens in return?" she said.

Meanwhile, the executive director of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, Kelly Fincham, said she was surprised to hear of the Taoiseach's comments given that discussions are still ongoing in Capitol Hill.

Ms Fincham said that she had been attending meetings with the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform in Washington this week which debated details of new negotiations in Capitol Hill.

"The Hispanic caucus in the House of Representatives is spearheading an effort to negotiate a five-year temporary work and travel visa for the undocumented as part of a package which would see passage of a bill aimed at expanding the H-2B temporary work visa program," she said.

"Surely our representatives in Washington should have told the Taoiseach that the issue of immigration reform is still being debated in Congress. It's not dead. It's not off the agenda," Ms Fincham said.

"The issue is still very much alive in Washington with the Hispanic caucus effort at the moment to try and cobble together some sort of legalization program in this Congress in this session," she said.

She also pointed to the fact that the President of Mexico, Felipe Calderon, is continuing his week-long tour of the US which is aimed at letting the undocumented Mexican community know that they have his backing.

Ms Fincham said: "It is so poignant to watch the news this week and see the president of Mexico so actively reaching out to the undocumented Mexicans to let them know that he has not forgotten them and he is working on their behalf to find a solution.".

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