Tuesday, May 22, 2007

If Only the Mexicans were Irish...

One curious development in the immigration law debates is that Senator Edward Kennedy, one of the few remaining spokespersons for civil rights and justice in the U.S. Congress, has given his imprimatur to a piece of legislation that will deprive millions of the right to participate in democratic institutions that govern their homes and workplaces; require extortion payments of over $5,000 from the poorest members of our society to keep from being thrown out of the country or thrown in jail; and that makes special provisions for aliens who survive hurricanes or make apple cider, but has nothing to say about aliens who survive tornadoes or make pear juice.

The initial 360 page bill is filled with detailed instructions as to increasing the number of border agents (by 3,000), helicopters (at least 100) , boats (at least 250) and even police cars to be purchased (1 for every three agents to be replaced within 3 years--GM seems to have been at the table for this one), but has only the vaguest language when it comes to enforcing provisions that would prevent employers or government agents from exploiting and harassing those in their purview, citizens and aliens alike.

Moreover, the bill is presently being amended in ways that all are making silly piece of legislation even sillier and more harmful. For instance, the initial bill, introduced May 9, 2007, would have provided guest worker status to aliens for three years, renewable once. The amended bill requires guest workers to leave after two years, spend a year elsewhere, work in the USA two more years, return for one year, and work for two final years before being required to permanently leave. Later this week I will discuss other amendments that are being taken up.

With the enthusiastic support of Senator Kennedy, supporting two measures introduced by other Irish senators, Irish undocumented workers were quickly legalized and the country that was alloted the highest number of green card lottery slots in the 1980s and 1990s was ... Ireland. A report published in the journal International Migration states:
During the severe Irish recession of 1980–85 a resurgence in Irish outflows resulted in a large undocumented Irish population in the US. Most of this population was later legalized as a result of special legislation that targeted the Irish.

And, according to researchers Ruth Wasem and Karmen Ester:

From FY1992 to FY1994, the State Department conducted a lottery for 40,000 immigrant visas that were available to natives of countries that have been “adversely affected” by the 1965 amendments to the INA that ended the country quota system. According to §132 of the 1990 Act, 40% (16,000) of these “transitional” diversity visas each year were earmarked for natives of Ireland.
Kennedy's role was in this legislation was crucial. Here's what the Christian Science Monitor editorial said of the immigration program in 1991:
"It is largely the creation of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts, at the instigation of the Irish lobby. As Irish applicants will receive 40 percent of the lottery visas for the first three years, the scheme can be regarded principally as an amnesty program for illegal Irish immigrants." October 21, 1991 (p. 20), from Lexis-Nexis

Why is Kennedy not urging the same system for Mexicans, giving the undocumented workers here the right to remain without penalty in disproportion to their present numbers? Why is Kennedy supporting a Draconian and unworkable plan to harm today's undocumented workers? Now that his previous legislation has already given legal status to Irish workers here illegally, now that Ireland has had a period of terrific economic growth and people are moving from the USA to Ireland, Kennedy seems to have decided that economic migrants are a bad idea. It seems pretty obvious that if the Mexicans were Irish, Kennedy would never have supported this bill.

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