On Eve of St. Patrick's Day, Irish On Both Sides of Atlantic Call for Immigration Reform

Transatlantic press conference stresses plight of undocumented in two nations

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March 16, 2013 BOSTON –  At one side of a computer screen sat an Irish woman in a conference room in Boston. At the other, a Philippinewoman in a conference room in Dublin. Though separated by the Atlantic Ocean, they were united by the similarity of their experiences living as undocumented immigrants in those cities. Yesterday morning, the two women and their colleagues were brought together in a Skype media conference to highlight another similarity — legislation in Ireland and the U.S. that could solve the problem for 30,000 undocumented immigrants there and 11 million undocumented immigrants here.

 

Ciara Lavery, at the Irish International Immigrant Center

"It's very hard being undocumented," said Elisa Fuentes, the 41-year-old health care worker in Dublin. "We prepare your food, we clean your houses and offices, we provide care for your children and old people.

"But we have no rights."

The point was echoed in Boston by 33-year-old Ciara Lavery, who has lived in Boston for nearly 15 years, the first 11 without papers. "I missed the births of two nephews and the funerals of close relatives because I couldn't go back" she said. "There are people older than me out here whose parents are old and they haven't seen them in 15 years.These people, like me, have paid taxes and work 50, 60 or 90 hour weeks.

"Something has to change."

Organized in Dublin by the Migrant Rights Centre, Ireland, with the support stateside of the Irish International Immigrant Center (IIIC) and the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, the press conference highlighted comprehensive immigration reform legislation in Ireland that closely mirrors the principles in the U.S. offered by a bipartisan group of Senators dubbed "The Gang of Eight." Both proposals would levy fines and strengthen borders, but both also recognize the fundamental need to re-establish the full legal rights and dignity of hard-working immigrants by establishing a pathway to legalization for the undocumented.

The press conference was held on the eve of a visit by the Taoiseach and Tánaiste of Ireland (the Prime Minister and Vice Prime Minister), who travel to the U.S. to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, which is often used to commemorate the long history of Irish immigration in cities like Chicago, New York and Boston.

Earlier in the week, another Boston event also underscored that history. Whereas many Americans celebrate St. Patrick's Day by visiting Irish pubs, one Irish pub in Brighton marked the Monday before St. Patrick's Day by hosting an free clinic for immigrants, organized by the IIIC.

"Austin O'Connor Sr, who opened this pub, was an Irish immigrant himself," said William "Buddy" Teifer, Assistant Manager at the Green Briar, in Brighton. "He was committed to helping out other people because he went through it too."

The monthly, Monday-night clinic has been held at the Green Briar for years, bringing together volunteer lawyers and immigrants in a room to the left of the main bar while the city's oldest traditional Irish Seisiun goes on in a room to the right. Among the attendees this week was a 17-year-old boy from Argentina, Nicolas, who was applying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program established last summer to offer temporary relief to young immigrants.

"I cross my fingers that he's going to be lucky with this," said his mother, Analia, "And have more of a future."

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"This clinic started out mostly with Irish clientele, and we held it in a pub because in Ireland pubs are community gathering places," said volunteer attorney Eoin Reilly, who organized the IIIC's first pub clinic in 1994. "Today it's so much more multinational — on a typical night I might see immigrants from 20 countries. What we do here is make sure people know what the law is. Undocumented immigrants and others are open to all sorts of exploitation and abuse by employers and unscrupulous lawyers."

The long-running clinic can offer advice, but it doesn't offer solutions for many immigrants. Again, the plight of the Irish community in Boston highlights the current immigration crisis, often portrayed in the media as a "Latino

problem," rather than an intractable problem with an antiquated system.

"The Irish community in Boston has been decimated over the past decade by the lack of immigration reform," said Christopher Lavery (no relation to Caira), another volunteer lawyer. "Irish culture is such a predominant part of this nation's identity, and this city's. That's being threatened. Some people whose grandfathers and grandmothers came here now want to limit the flow of people, but you're refusing entry to some of the best and brightest — people who are willing to go to a new country to start a new profession, to generate money in this country."

Nevertheless, all the volunteers at the clinic expressed hope that immigration reform will finally happen this year, with concerted effort. To that end, the IIIC has joined with MIRA and dozens of other community organizations to highlight stories like Ciara Lavery's in the New England Coalition for Keeping Families Together, part of a nationwide campaign featuring personal stories of our broken system.

"If you don't have hope, what do you have?" says Ciara Lavery in a video she made for the Keeping Families Together campaign. "I would like to see all undocumented people — not just Irish — all undocumented people have the chance to be treated as equal to American citizens. You know, we put money back in the economy, we put money back in the communities. Treat us as equals. That's all."

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For more information on New England Coalition for Keeping Families Together, visit http://www.facebook.com/NewEnglandKFT and http://www.facebook.com/MIRACoalition. To see videos from immigrants, go to www.keepingfamiliestogether.net.

New England Coalition For "Keeping Families Together": Agencia ALPHA, Alliance to Develop Power (ADP), Brazilian Immigrant Center, Brazilian Women's Group, Brockton Interfaith Community, Centro Latino, Chelsea Collaborative, Cleghorn Neighborhood Center, Comité de Inmigrantes en Acción, Community Connections of Brockton, East Boston Ecumenical Community Council (EBECC), Fuerza Laboral (Providence, RI), Gloria Dei Step Up Center (Providence, RI), Irish International Immigrant Center (IIIC), JUNTA for Progressive Action (New Haven, CT), Latinas Know Your Rights, Latinos Unidos de Massachusetts (LUMA), Maria Luisa de Moreno International Foundation, Massachusetts Community Action Network/PICO National Network, Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), New Bedford Community Economic Development Center of Southeastern Massachusetts (CEDC), New Hampshire Alliance of Immigrants and Refugees, ¿Oiste?, REACH Beyond Domestic Violence, Roca Inc, SEIU 615, Unidad Latina (New Haven, CT), Worcester Immigrant Coalition.