Wednesday, March 08, 2006

2252 Irish going home

Illegals going home? But this time it's the Irish. I didn't know we had such a small problem, but it was a big story in the LA Times, March 8. The Irish economy is booming; why shouldn't they go home if they are not here legally? Why is this story made to sound so pathetic and heart wrenching? I can still claim to be a bit Irish, although my Irish came in the 1730s and fought in the American Revolution. They beat the potato famine rush of the 19th century by over 100 years.

But in one of the unexpected effects of Sept. 11, Irish immigrants are leaving the United States in waves; they say the crackdown on illegal immigration, coupled with a booming Irish economy, has eliminated the advantages that drew them here.

Ten years from now, say activists pushing for immigration reform, there won't be Irish neighborhoods left in New York.

"Watch the various airlines heading for Ireland," said Adrian Flannelly, chairman of New York's Irish Radio Network, "and you can see the same type of grief and sorrow that there has been in the worst days of our history, where [immigrants] would leave everything behind them.

"The Irish in America are as old as America itself," he said. "In that sense, this is a disgrace."

Before dawn today, 17 buses were scheduled to leave Katonah Avenue for Washington, where Irish immigrants intend to press for passage of the Kennedy-McCain immigration bill. The legislation would allow all illegal immigrants to apply for legal status after paying their back taxes and working in the United States for six years.

The Irish government estimates that 25,000 of its citizens are living illegally in the United States, but immigration reform groups say the number is as high as 40,000.

The push to change U.S. immigration law came from Ireland, where politicians were hearing bitter complaints from voters whose relatives were living here illegally, said Niall O'Dowd, chairman and founder of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform. The group received a grant from the Irish government to pursue its mission.

"There's nowhere in the world where Irish citizens are more marginalized than the United States," said O'Dowd, publisher of the weekly Irish Voice.

The Irish-born population in the United States has been dwindling for years, from 251,000 in 1970 to 169,827 in 1990, according to the census. It has fallen sharply over the last four years, most notably between 2003 and 2004, when it dropped from 148,416 to 127,682.

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