No job. No papers. No going home
Niall O’Dowd, founder of the Irish Voice newspaper and co-founder of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR), says the new influx of young Irish into the US should provide a renewed impetus for the Irish community there, and in Ireland, to continue to push for better rights for the undocumented.
“These young people believe in a flawed American dream, but an American dream nonetheless, that they can come here and good things will happen for them,” he says.
A proposed new E3 visa for Irish immigrants, which would allow up to 10,000 Irish people to work legally in the US for up to two years, was put forward in a bill introduced by New York senator Charles Schumer last December. Undocumented Irish currently living in the US would be able to apply for the proposed visa, which could be extended indefinitely.
The bill gained the support of 53 senators, but lacked endorsement from Republicans, and has since been shelved, but O’Dowd and the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform has not given up hope.
“There is a wave of emigration every generation from Ireland – the 1920s, 1950s, 1980s and again now,” he says. “That is going to continue, as we are an emigrant nation, and there is a responsibility on both sides of the Atlantic to provide emigrants past and present who are willing to contribute to American life with a viable future.”
Mark: 'I haven't seen my sisters for five years. I can't recommend this'
Mark (38), New York
“I left Donegal in the early 1990s with my girlfriend. We didn’t plan to stay long in New York, but 18 years later we’re still here.
“I had trained as a joiner in Ireland, and found work easily as a carpenter here. I now work as a project manager for a construction company.
“We are married and have three children. They are all American citizens even though we are undocumented ourselves. I can’t see us ever moving back. The kids don’t know any other place but America.
“My sister got married last week in Donegal, the fifth family wedding I’ve missed since I came over here, not to mention the passing of grandparents, aunts and uncles.
“I haven’t been able to go home, but my family have been over to see me down through the years. My sisters are all married with children now so I haven’t seen them for about five years, and my parents are in their late 60s so I don’t know if they will be able to travel that distance for much longer.
“I was 20 when I came out here. When you’re that young and there’s no prospect of work at home in Ireland, you don’t think too far ahead. Down the line, you think you should have done things differently. I wouldn’t recommend this life. If I could do it all again I wouldn’t stay without my papers.”
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