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    US ambassador encourages Irish reform efforts

    By Noreen Bowden | November 13, 2009

    The US ambassador to Ireland has encouraged Irish efforts to urge the US to undertake comprehensive immigration reform, according to a report in the Mayo News.

    Speaking at an event entitled “Transatlantic Migration in Irish America�, held at the Castlebar campus of GMIT, Dan Rooney said:

    “I think there are opportunities but American immigration policies have to do with everybody. On the south, we have Mexico and Central American, on the north, we have Canada and on the east we have Ireland. We can’t write a policy just for one but I will say this with regards to politics, you have a lot of friends in Congress. I would tell the Irish to go up the Hill and get Congress on their side. They will write up the bill but it will have to be a uniform bill – but that doesn’t mean they won’t look at a special situationâ€?.

    Ambassador Rooney’s reference to “a special situation� is intriguing. There has been some controversy in Irish and Irish-American circles over whether Irish activists were lobbying for comprehensive immigration reform, which would alleviate the plight of all undocumented immigrants in the US, or a special deal for the Irish.

    Current political realities in the US would seem to rule out the kind of special deals for the Irish that the Donnelly and Morrison visas guaranteed in the 1980s and 1990s. With over ten million undocumented in the US, and the Irish only comprising an estimated 50,000 of them, such a special deal would clearly be unfair.

    While the emphasis, in fact, has seemed to be on getting a comprehensive deal, there have also been some efforts toward a solution that would give Irish people increased access to legal work opportunities in the US in the future. The 12-month Ireland/USA Intern Work and Travel Programme announced some months ago seemed to be in that spirit, as do efforts aimed at securing a bilateral trade agreement similar to the one Australia has with the US, which allows for some visas. Neither of these measures would assist the currently undocumented, however; the importance of them lies in ensuring a continuing strong link between Ireland and the US.

    The question of whether Irish-America has lost its influence in American politics has also been a subject of debate in Irish-American and Irish media, particularly since the death of Senator Ted Kennedy –Ireland’s most stalwart friend in Congress. Dan Rooney’s comments that “you have a lot of friends in Congress� will perhaps reassure some.

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