Thursday's New York Times has an interesting story about the campaign amongst immigrant groups to derail a bill that would mandate prison time for being in the USA illegally and thwart the path to citizenship for current illegal immigrants. The legislation is of course unpopular with all immigrant groups but what has attracted attention is the lobbying power of the illegal Irish, who account for a tiny percentage of the overall affected population:
Juan Carlos Ruiz, the coordinator of the predominantly Hispanic rally of 40,000 held March 7 on Capitol Hill, said that only one senator had shown up there, without speaking: Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat. The next day, Mr. Ruiz said, when he and his 14-year-old son stopped by the Irish gathering of about 2,400 and realized that the speakers included Senators Edward M. Kennedy, John McCain, as well as Senators Clinton and Schumer, his son asked, "Why didn't the senators come to our rally?"
The response of the Irish groups is the reasonable one that they didn't ask for special treatment and that to extent they are successful, a deal would benefit everybody. Even here though there is a concern that the politicians might follow the current anti-immigrant mood but seek to neutralise the concern amongst Irish-American voters with a special deal for the Irish. It should be noted though that the opposition to concessions runs quite deep in the Bush coalition:
"They're essentially saying, 'Look, we're good European illegal immigrants,' " said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports the House and Senate measures that would turn "unlawful presence," now a civil violation, into a crime. "The reason they've been more successful is the same reason it appeals to editors — immigration nostalgia from 150 years ago."
He added: "Can they be bought off by a special program for a handful of remaining illegals? I'm not saying it's a good idea, but you just start talking about the old sod and singing 'Danny Boy,' and of course it's possible."
Now Krikorian -- a regular contributer at the National Review -- has a strange view of history, since 150 years ago the Irish immigrants were being directed off ships and straight into combat in the Civil War, which is hardly the red carpet treatment. In reality, all Congress really has to do is survive the Washington version of St Patrick's "Festival" without making any promises, and the Irish will be in the same boat as everyone else. Which is, frankly, better for everyone else.
UPDATE: Bertie clearly got the message; headline on RTE story says it all: No special deal for Irish in US, says Ahern