Irish deserve special recognition by US as emigration clampdown looms

The chaos in immigration laws in the US must be tackled, but the distinct role played by Irish people in American history should be addressed, writes John P Collins.

I am the son of an Irish immigrant father from Co Limerick. He very much wanted to come to the US in 1924, but the country allowed no legal immigration at that time. Instead, he went to Canada. He worked in Ontario for five years and then immigrated lawfully to the US, as a Canadian resident, from Montreal. He obeyed the US immigration laws of that era.

Understandably, I have been a keen observer of the US immigration policies for some time.

In 1965, the US adopted a Kennedy proposed immigration law (the Hart-Cellar Bill). It replaced the 1949 McCarran-Walter Act. There is no question but that this latter law was discriminatory, particularly against Asian people. Then again, as the late US senator Sam Ervin remarked, any immigration law, by its very nature must be selective and hence discriminatory against someone.

It replaced the 1949 McCarran-Walter Act. There is no question but that this latter law was discriminatory, particularly against Asian people. Then again, as the late US senator Sam Ervin remarked, any immigration law, by its very nature must be selective and hence discriminatory against someone.

Then again, as the late US senator Sam Ervin remarked, any immigration law, by its very nature must be selective and hence discriminatory against someone.

In the mid-1960s, I chaired the American Irish National Immigration Committee and testified three times before Congress. Our committee argued that, yes, the 1949 law discriminated, but now the 1965 law was discriminating against the Irish and other Europeans.

True, before 1965, Ireland had a quota for entry of more than 30,000 a year but only used about 5,000. Now, under the new preference system, 5,000 still desired to come but only about 1,500 were able to obtain visas.

Our committee argued that, yes, the 1949 law discriminated, but now the 1965 law was discriminating against the Irish and other Europeans. True, before 1965, Ireland had a quota for entry of more than 30,000 a year but only used about 5,000. Now, under the new preference system, 5,000 still desired to come but only about 1,500 were able to obtain visas.

Now, under the new preference system, 5,000 still desired to come but only about 1,500 were able to obtain visas.

Soon we were joined by complaining German groups and, still later, by the Italian committee.

The Kennedy administration assured one and all that the new law would have no effect on the US pattern of immigration. Well, they were wrong.

There has been a radical change in the composition of legal immigration to the US. That, of course, is quite apart from the illegal immigration to the US, which was formerly minimal in numbers, but no longer so.

Our committee clearly recognised that no one nationality is superior to any other. Our committee never encouraged Irishmen and women to leave Ireland and immigrate to the US.

We certainly did desire to preserve the right of the Irish to enter the US in fair numbers and we did assist in regularising and adjusting the status of individuals who illegally entered the US.

More importantly, however, the committee argued that certain nationalities played key roles in the history of the US. While no nationality should be excluded from the country, due recognition should be taken of the former.

While our committee succeeded in getting a bill passed in the House of Representatives, we were unsuccessful in getting a law passed in the Senate.

Well, it is now 50 years on, and the truth is we really have no rule of law as far as immigration is concerned. Some do come through the legal process. Many do remain at home, on a long waiting list. For the most part, however, individuals just come across our southern border or just hop on a plane, enter as visitors, and remain. Some work here illegally (taking the jobs of American citizens), some do not.

Some do come through the legal process. Many do remain at home, on a long waiting list. For the most part, however, individuals just come across our southern border or just hop on a plane, enter as visitors, and remain. Some work here illegally (taking the jobs of American citizens), some do not.

Some come to become anchor parents — illegal immigrants who go on to have a child in the US — then some remain to raise families. Some pay taxes and some do not. All rely on municipal services, receive benefits, many on welfare or the dole. Some violate our criminal laws and are permitted to remain. No other country on earth permits such chaos and the US citizenry has finally begun to say — enough already.

Admittedly, the ultimate solution is not an easy one.

Clearly, those illegal immigrants who have violated federal and state criminal laws must be deported forthwith. That leaves millions of others who are here illegally but have not violated any criminal law.

In recent weeks both in Ireland and the US, there has been much discussion about American immigration policy now and what the future may hold.

They have no right to be here but I’m sure the US Congress and the new administration will ultimately work out a reasonable solution which will allow many to remain, but penalties will have to be paid. As of a certain date, there will have to be strict enforcement of the law, with swift deportation of anyone who enters after that date and remains here illegally.

Until now, neither the US Republican or Democrat parties wished to solve the problem. The Republicans desired cheap labour and the Democrats wanted future voters. Beyond that, the US Congress will now have to consider possible revision of the 1965 law, determining who should be permitted to enter and why.

Any new law must recognise that an immigration law must serve the interests of the US, with the exception of situations where asylum is granted.

There must be protection for US workers. There should be no provision for so-called anchor babies.

The current preference category of the 1965 law for sisters and brothers and mothers and fathers of US citizens must be eliminated.

At present, there are individuals who, pursuant to this provision, legally bring 19 or more family members, most of whom go immediately on the welfare lists.

The family preference came to be in the 1965 law by reason of pressure from the US Catholic Bishops Conference. The provision was opposed by the author of the 1965 Law, Congress Celler of New York. The bishops made an end run around the congressman, getting the late congressman Mike Feighan of Ohio to champion their cause.

The provision was a detriment to most immigrants from Europe, as rarely did whole families immigrate here. One might also note that the same bishops conference refused to support the efforts of the American-Irish Immigration Committee in seeking extra visas for Ireland by means of the Ryan-Rodino Bill.

Now where does all this immigration talk leave Ireland in the coming years?

The Ireland of today, economically, is far different from the Ireland of the 1960s and, under current US law, Ireland suffers no more than France, Germany, or Spain and indeed degrades itself by sending representatives with the begging bowl seeking more visas.

In the 1960s, neither Fianna Fáil nor Fine Gael governments took a public position on the US immigration law.

First, they had a belief that any emigration out of the country reflected poorly on their government, and second, they believed that it was improper for any Irish government to interfere in the internal policies of another nation.

Ireland today is a reasonably prosperous nation composed of well-educated people who can compete with any other nationality assuming a fair “playing field”.

There is, however, a distinct role for American Irish and their organisations, at this time. It is our duty to remind political leaders in the US of the part played by Irishmen and women in the development of the US and in the revolution, civil war and all succeeding wars. For that, Ireland does deserve some special recognition.

John P Collins is a retired New York State Supreme Court Justice. He was originally appointed as a judge of the NY City Criminal Court by mayor Ed Koch and was reappointed by mayors Guiliani and Bloomberg. He was born in New York to parents from Limerick and has lectured at the Faculty of Law, University College, Dublin, and at University of Limerick

He was born in New York to parents from Limerick and has lectured at the Faculty of Law, University College, Dublin, and at University of Limerick



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