Updates From Dublin

Updates From Dublin

Updates From Dublin

The Plight of the Undocumented Irish in America
by Rev. Alan Hilliard, Director, IECE
April 16, 2007

The burial day of John F Kennedy is recalled by his niece Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in her recent book Failing America’s Faithful.  She remembers her own father, Bobby, taking time with her after the burial.  Following their conversation he wrote her a note:

‘Dear Kathleen, You seemed to understand that Jack died and was buried today. As the oldest of the Kennedy grandchildren – you have a particular responsibility now- a special responsibility to John (her cousin) and Joe (her brother). Be kind to others and work for your country. Love Daddy’

The last line gives an insight into what we might term the American ethic. Kindness to others and working for the nation are the backbone of active citizenship in the United States.  Over the years, millions of Irish who have made the United States their home, have also adopted this ethic as their own.  We should be mindful that the Irish-American ‘family’ includes the so called ‘undocumented Irish’ whose reputation is also characterised as being both kind to others and hard-workers for America.

Those who left Ireland when there was little work in the 1980s and early 1990s are now facing their last chance to get what they deserve – a pathway to citizenship.  Failure to secure a bill in the US Senate over the next number of weeks will amount to a major set back.  People’s lives will be devastated and cut short.  The fact that our Irish people have contributed to the well being of the great nation of America, which they love, seems to count for very little at present.  If the land of dreams fails to live up to its legislative responsibility, then the dreams of many good living, God-fearing people, will evaporate.

One glance at this problem, with a view to solving it, may prompt someone to ask: ‘why can’t they come home to Ireland, we are a wealthy nation now’.  The response is disarmingly simple.  As one parent at Saturday’s rally in Dublin, which was organised by the Irish Lobby for Immigrant Reform, put it: ‘America is their home now.’

There are many lessons to be learned for Ireland as we too face an influx of immigrants.  In order to best prepare for the future, we should examine how this situation came about in the United States.  In today’s world a nation can no longer afford to ignore the reality of migration.  The United Nations has identified migration as one of the greatest challenges of this century.

Looking to the next few weeks it is important to note that there are a myriad of complex relations which encourage immigration and which need to be understood. Closing borders without consideration of either historical ties and/or the network of relationships called family, would be short-sighted and destined for difficulty.

Authorities need to broaden their view of the migrant.  The term factor of production is an economic one. This term glosses over the full reality that a ‘factor of production’ is a human being who contributes to the production of goods and services in society.  If we focus only on this, the economic entity, and thereby overlook the full human context of this valuable resource, we will fail to properly manage the demands that migration places on host societies.  This makes the road ahead much more complex.

The current impasse in the United States is due mainly to a narrow analysis of the migrant.  The reality is that legislation which exclusively addresses that portion of the human person providing labour, to the neglect of the needs and potential of the whole human person, is not sustainable.

However, the bill proposed by Kennedy McCain has made an honest attempt to route a way through this complex public policy issue. This should not be surprising, as Senator Ted Kennedy never moves far from his own family’s experience of migration when he prepares his proposals for genuine and lasting reform.

From our point of view, we are guided by the recent Church document Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi which highlights the humanity and the vulnerability of the migrant.  The opening sentence of the document articulates the challenge thus: ‘The love of Christ toward migrants urges us to look afresh at their problems, which are to be met with today all over the world’.

We pray God’s blessing on his current negotiations.  If migration policy is constructed solely for a unit of labour it is bound for frustration and failure. The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, explains that if migration policy is to succeed it has to be at the service of human mobility.  Scapegoating and punishing the undocumented will only create a short-lived sense of security.  Wholesome and humane reform which addresses the broader issues is the only way forward for a country, such as the United States, that wants to focus on responsible citizenship and economic progress.

  • For more information on the bishops’ Supporting Irish Abroad campaign, please see: www.catholiccommunications.ie/sia and on the undocumented see: www.usairish.org.
  • For further information please contact:
    Director of Communications – Martin Long + 353 86 1727 678