The Irish community in the US is rallying to protest against proposed immigration reforms which threaten thousands of undocumented Irish immigrants.
Meetings were recently held on the north and south sides of the Chicago to educate people about the proposals that are expected to come before the US Senate in late February.
The organisers of the meeting shave appealed for support for the campaign.
Another key meeting will be held this week in Philadelphia to discuss the future of up to 50,000 illegal Irish immigrants in the United States.
The Sensenbrenner bill, which has made it through the House of Representatives seeks harsh penalties for those who violate the American immigration system. Under this proposed law, if immigrants cannot produce a green card when asked by a police officer, they would not only face deportation, but could also be put in prison for at least a year with no right of appeal.
However, the proposed McCain-Kennedy US Immigration Bill would offer a path to legalisation and permanent residence in the US for thousands of Irish immigrants. It would allow immigrants the freedom to travel and after a period of time they can become US citizens.
At the Irish-American Heritage Centre last week, a new group, Chicago Immigration Reform, was formed.
Its aim is to inform Chicago’s Irish community about the pending legislation and the consequences it could have. It is calling on legal and illegal immigrants to write letters and e-mails to local politicians and state senators asking them to vote down the Sensenbrenner bill.
“If it comes in, I’m out of business and that’s it,” said an undocumented immigrant at Friday’s meeting. The 38-year-old man had owned a successful construction business in Chicago since 1999, but if the new legislation came in he would return home because he was too afraid of being caught.
Several documented Irish immigrants and Irish-Americans are coming out in support of the undocumented.
Erin Devlin, an American of Irish descent, is married to an undocumented Irish man. She said many of the undocumented in the community were too afraid to come out and fight this legislation. “They are afraid if they show up [ to meetings] they’ll be under the limelight.”
Meanwhile, it has been revealed that more than 20,000 Irish emigrants are returning home to settle in the 26 Counties each year.
According to the latest statistics, almost 132,000 Irish people have returned to live in the 26 Counties since 2001. Almost 14,000 immigrants moved to the 26 Counties from the United States since 2000, and the vast majority of those were returning emigrants.
Returning emigrants are facing increasing financial problems due to the higher cost of living. In the latest statistics, Dublin is listed as the 16th most expensive city in the world, while the most expensive city in the USA, New York, is listed at number 27 in the world.
Speaking in New York, Minister for Social and Family Affairs Seamus Brennan said he was very aware of the concerns in the United States over the number of undocumented Irish and the problems they are currently encountering.
“While it is difficult to estimate the numbers of undocumented Irish people, the essential problem of the undocumented population is not its size but rather the burden of stress which their uncertain status causes them and their families in Ireland,” said Mr Brennan.
“I can assure all involved that this issue has the highest priority for the [Dublin government] and is also being constantly pursued at the highest diplomatic levels.”