U.S. remains first choice for Irish immigrants. Senate bill offers them a lifeline

Since President Clinton first gave me a visa to visit the U.S. I have found myself each March here on Capitol Hill meeting old friends and making new friends, and briefing congressional leaders on developments in the peace process.

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The war has ended and the political situation has changed enormously in Ireland in the last decade, but the peace process demands constant attention in order to ensure its continuing progress.

There is also a huge interest among U.S. political leaders and within the diaspora about how the island of Ireland is managing the fallout from the economic recession.

The south of Ireland has been especially hard hit and the Fine Gael and Labor led government – which has been in power for one year – has built its economic approach on the policies of austerity. The consequences for citizens have been significant with almost half a million out of work and 6,000 mainly young people immigrating each month. I don’t believe you can cut your way out of recession. There must be a jobs stimulus and growth.

Sinn Féin has also made clear our opposition to the European ‘Treaty on Stability, Co-ordination and Governance’ which the Irish government has signed up. This austerity treaty will enshrine the policies of austerity into our constitution and international law in perpetuity. It is a treaty that seriously undermines Irish sovereignty by surrendering important Irish fiscal and budgetary matters to un-elected and unaccountable EU officials.
 
Sinn Féin will be campaigning for a No vote in the referendum which the government was forced into holding.

In recent months the Taoiseach has visited the U.S. several times seeking investment in jobs. President Clinton has been very helpful in this. It’s one of the few areas of the Taoiseach’s approach that I agree with. The U.S. can play a vital role in rebuilding economic confidence in Ireland through investing in jobs and economic growth.

There are also other matters of mutual interest which I will take the opportunity to raise on my visit. For example, the Irish government has recently launched a Constitutional Convention project with the aim of recommending constitutional reform.

This has significant potential, especially for those in the Irish diaspora in the U.S. and elsewhere. In a recent meeting with the Taoiseach I argued that as well as being inclusive and transparent the Constitutional Convention must also include citizens from the north as well as from the diaspora.

The Irish government is currently working very hard to persuade the diaspora, and especially that part of it that is involved in business and commerce, to invest in Ireland. The Constitutional Convention is a perfect opportunity to engage the diaspora in a meaningful way by involving it in the discussion and giving serious consideration being given to the right of the diaspora to vote in Irish presidential elections.

Another area of concern is around immigration which has been steadily rising in recent years as the unemployment gets worse and the economy continues to dip.

The U.S. has traditionally been “first choice” for immigrants from Ireland because of the historic and family ties between the two countries. It is now virtually closed to those Irish people seeking to work in the U.S. There is also the problem of the thousands of undocumented Irish already in the U.S who have no legal path to citizenship. 

The need for immigration reform therefore takes on an added dimension for Ireland in the current economic crisis. Sinn Féin commends and supports the efforts of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform and others in both these regards. That is why the bill currently before the Senate is crucial.

Amendments to the bill from Senators Chuck Schumer and Scott Brown call for a specific provision in the bill for Ireland. This could enable skilled Irish workers to apply and if successful be able to work in the U.S. on two years renewable visas. Work is on-going to bring the two Bills together, with the requisite support from Democrat and Republican senators.

It would truly mark St. Patrick’s Day if this bill was passed this month.

In the meantime Lá Féile Padraig and I look forward to meeting some of you while I am there.

Adams is a Teachta Dála - member of the Dáil, the Irish Parliament - and President of Sinn Féin.