There was great jubilation recently among the so-called 'undocumented Irish' living and working in the United States, when Barack Obama announced his immigration reform plans. Indeed, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny wrote a letter to President Obama gushingly praising him for his efforts to help those who have been living as 'illegals' in the States for decades. President Obama's immigration reform plans are surely to be welcomed, and certainly a lot of Irish people will benefit greatly from them.
Meanwhile, President Higgins was in South Africa recently, and he made a speech about human rights. In a follow up question and answer session he was asked about the Irish Government's system of Direct Provision whereby refugees are held in centres - sometimes for years - as they await the processing of their application for asylum. President Higgins said the system 'by which they are put into places of accommodation and may remain there for eight to ten years is totally unsatisfactory.'
Surely there's a bit of the old 'double standards' going on here? Why is it that we treat asylum seekers and refugees in such an inhumane way, and yet we expect the United States to bend over backwards to suit the Irish who are living there illegally? The simple fact is that we have people coming to Ireland and currently living here, who have come seeking exactly what those illegal Irish living in America are seeking.
Maybe the asylum seekers here are even more deserving of an amnesty, because they have some here to try to escape war, famine, torture, genital mutilation, and failed states. We campaign for the rights of our illegal immigrants in the U.S, yet we fail to properly deal with people who have left their countries for reasons far worse than people leave this country.
Yes, there are many arriving here who do not deserve political asylum, and yes they should be sent away. The problem is in the way we deal with their application for asylum. Rather than imprison them for years in direct provision 'camps', we should process their applications speedily and either allow them asylum, or deport them in accordance with the law. It is costing the country more to pay for direct provision than it would be to hire more staff to clear the backlog.
As we begin the season of Advent, our thoughts turn once again to the Nativity Story, and there's a simple lesson for all of us in it: the baby Jesus was an undocumented refugee child. First of all we remember that there was no welcome when the Holy Family looked for a place to stay in Bethlehem, and they ended up in a stable. We remember too that Joseph and Mary had to flee with their child to Egypt to escape danger, and that they couldn't return for years.
Christmas is also the season when we celebrate womanhood and motherhood. Much has been made recently of the fact that we now have women in all the top justice jobs in Ireland - the Minister for Justice, the Attorney General, the Chief Justice, the Garda Commissioner and the DPP are all women. One wonders does this mean that there will be a more compassionate consideration given to those who are about to spend yet another Christmas in a direct provision centre?