Born on the Fourth of July: hope for 11m illegal US immigrants

A bipartisan Bill on immigration may offer illegals a way to become legal

Fireworks lighting up the Empire State Building along the Manhattan skyline during Fourth of July celebrations. Photograph: John Minchillo/AP Photo

Fireworks lighting up the Empire State Building along the Manhattan skyline during Fourth of July celebrations. Photograph: John Minchillo/AP Photo


History was made in Coney Island, New York, on Thursday. Joey “Jaws” Chestnut won his seventh consecutive Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating championship when he devoured 69 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes, setting a new world record and beating his previous year’s record of 68.

“I almost started crying for a second. I’m happy as heck!” Chestnut (29) told the New York Daily News after his win. “Things came together today. The hot dogs were really good. It wasn’t too hot.”

The 69 hotdogs are the most anyone has eaten since the competition began in 1916. Chestnut, from San José, California, revealed earlier in the week that his secret was to eat the hotdogs in a “smarter” fashion, keeping movements to a minimum as he paced himself and dunking the bread in water to ease the hotdogs down his gullet.

Sonya “the Black Widow” Thomas (45) from Alexandria, Virginia, won the women’s competition by eating 36 and three-quarter hot dogs in 10 minutes, defending the annual title.

The competition is one of the zanier events that take place every Fourth of July when Americans celebrate the day in 1776 when the United States marked its independence from Britain. The US voted for independence from King George III on July 2nd 1776 but the paper copies of the declaration were distributed to the states for ratification two days later and this date stuck. It took until 1941 before the US Congress declared July 4th a national holiday. Eight of the men who signed the declaration of independence were of Irish descent – three were born in Ireland.

Fireflies competed with the many neighbourhood firework displays on Capitol Hill on Thursday evening while tens of thousands of people gathered on the Mall at the Capitol sitting on picnic rugs and enjoying the official firework display over the Washington Monument.

Patriotic holiday
American flags and paraphernalia adorned houses and shops across the country for this patriotic holiday when independence is remembered with parades and parties. The state department released an interesting fact-sheet before the holiday showing that $3.8 million worth of American flags were imported into the US in 2012, of which $3.6 million came from China. Just $614,000 worth of US flags were exported out of the country; about a third of these went to Mexico. The value of fireworks imported from China last year was $218 million, compared with just $11.7 million exported out of the US.

At the White House President Barack Obama hosted US military servicemen and women while he used his weekly radio address to urge Americans to live up to the words of the declaration of independence.

This week, like every week, in the US more people became citizens of the US. The department of homeland security said more than 7,800 became citizens at about 100 naturalisation ceremonies.

This year, however, is different for the 11 million illegal immigrants in the US, including an estimated 50,000 Irish, because for the first time in a generation there is a real prospect they could be given a way to becoming legal in the country as bipartisan legislation comes before the House of Representatives after the congressional holiday.

E-3 working visas
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Eamon Gilmore will travel to Washington next week to continue Ireland’s efforts to lobby Capitol Hill politicians to pass the Bill. The legislation would not just help the undocumented Irish but would grant 10,500 “E-3” US working visas a year to Irish people who have completed secondary education under a visa previously made available only to Australians with third-level degrees. This will help those fleeing unemployment at home.

It was a significant coup for the Government and the various Irish-American lobbyists making the case for Irish immigrants on Capitol Hill to have these new visas included in the Bill.

The bipartisan Bill, drafted by the so-called Gang of Eight senators, passed the Senate last month and the House is working on its own approach to overhauling the US’s outdated immigration laws. House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, has made a declaration of independence of sorts by saying that he won’t allow his chamber simply to take a vote on the Senate Bill but it will develop its own plan.

There are important months ahead for the Irish and other immigrant communities in the US. The next time the Fourth of July celebrations come around, the immigrants hoping to enjoy the ideals enshrined in the country’s 237-year-old declaration of independence may have another reason to celebrate.