US still land of opportunity for Irish illegal immigrantsEoin Reynolds
Published 26/12/2010 | 05:00
THE United States is still the land of opportunity for anyone struggling to pay the bills or find work in Ireland, according to Irish groups in New York and San Francisco.
The eastern and western cities, long established gateways for the Irish, have already seen a rise in the number of undocumented immigrants looking for work.
Ciaran Staunton, of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform in New York and Celine Kennelly of the San Francisco Irish Immigration Pastoral Centre said most find work within days of arrival.
Ciaran added: "We've all heard the stories about the hardships of people living illegally out here and what it's like but the truth is, if you want to get away from all the problems in Ireland at the moment, and pay your mortgage or your credit card bill or whatever it is for a few years, it can be done out here.
"There are jobs for people here even if they come over illegally."
The Irish Pastoral Centre in San Francisco estimates there are more than 5,000 illegal Irish in the city and the number is growing every week. Before the Celtic Tiger the number was about 7,000.
Celine believes there will be a return to that level.
She added: "None of the illegals here are out of work. They are all earning money and doing ok for themselves. There are problems for people if they want to stay here long term because every time you go home, you might not be allowed back into the country. You're not allowed to get a driver's licence and that causes a lot of problems for people.
"But in the short term it is an alternative that people can consider."
The undocumented typically work in bars, restaurants and on building sites.
But many of the illegal Irish who travelled to the US and settled down only intended to stay for a short time.
Celine said: "Most people don't come here intending to settle down.
"They come over to get a job and make some money but then they meet someone and start a family or they get used to being here and it becomes their new home and it becomes harder to leave."
Celine cited one recent case of a woman who has made a new life for herself in San Francisco where she has a family, a home and a good job.
But when her grandmother in Ireland fell ill she had to choose whether to risk flying out to see her. If immigration refused to admit her back into the US she would have to uproot her young family, or live apart from them.
In the end the fear of not being allowed back into the US was too great. Her grandmother has since died.
The Irish in America also face a new danger. Members of the Republican Party, particularly those in the Tea Party, are trying to repeal one of the mainstays of the American constitution -- the automatic entitlement to citizenship of anyone born in the US.
Since 1868 the 14th amendment has allowed Irish parents secure for their children the rights they are denied.
Arizona senator John Kyl has joined the chorus of Republicans giving approval to altering the constitution.
He has called on Congress to discuss repealing the amendment, a move that would strike fear into the hearts of many Irish illegals.
However, some Republicans are reluctant to back such a proposal for fear of alienating Latino communities.