18th May 2007
Chair of Irish Episcopal Commission for Emigrants, Bishop of Derry Bishop Séamus Hegarty, letter to Irish Pastoral Centre in Boston on the occasion of their 20th Anniversary Celebrations.
The hope of real and lasting reform for the undocumented Irish appears imminent
I take this opportunity to congratulate the Irish Pastoral Centre in Boston for twenty years of diligent service to Irish people in the Massachusetts area. I commend the visionary efforts of those who saw the crying need among the Irish that traveled to the US in the 1980s seeking the hope of a better future. I also pay tribute to the many people that worked in a paid or voluntary capacity with the centre since its foundation. You have brought great joy and kindly support to many. I pass on the prayers and blessings of the Irish Catholic Bishop’s Conference and the admiration of the membership of the Irish Bishop’s Commission for Emigrants and Migrants.
The centre can be proud that its care of people is primarily pastoral and remains so to this day. Your outreach is inspired by the Gospel of Jesus Christ who welcomes the stranger and cares for those who are isolated or in need. Your service also highlights that the provision of culturally sensitive, caring liturgies is an essential work in migrant care.
Thankfully the economic and political situation in Ireland has changed for the better. We have more opportunity than ever. Some might be tempted to forget those of you that had to leave this land in harsher times. This is not our intention.
Over the last number of years, we have advocated for a pathway to legalisation for the undocumented Irish in the US. When I visited you in May 2005 I saw your plight at first hand. Previously, in my work in the Diocese of Derry and formerly in the Diocese of Raphoe, I became all too aware of the difficulty that you and your families have experienced as a consequence of this painful separation. The road is not over but you should take satisfaction in the important successes to date.
As core members of the US Bishops Conference Justice for Immigrants campaign, members of the Irish Apostolate USA Board met this week in Washington DC with both Republican and Democratic staff so as to seek their support to enact meaningful comprehensive immigration reform this year. These meetings undertaken by members of the Apostolate were in addition to many visits over recent months and years. All of this has been critical in the advancement of reform. This labour is on the verge of bearing fruit and I thank our team for their commitment to this aspect of our mission.
On Thursday, May 17, a breakthrough in the immigration debate occurred when a bipartisan group of senators announced that they have agreed to a compromise bill regarding immigration reform. Senator Ted Kennedy, a long-time champion of immigrants’ rights in your own State of Massachusetts and in the US generally, had been meeting daily for the last few weeks with: Senator Jon Kyl; White House Cabinet officers; and, several other key senators so as to find compromise on the vastly different visions of immigration reform that exist.
At the press conference Senator Kennedy hailed the compromise bill as ”the best possible chance we will have in years to secure our borders and bring millions of people out of the shadows and into the sunshine of America.” Senator Kyl said the measure wasn’t perfect, ”but it represents the best opportunity that we have in a bipartisan way to do something about this problem.”
Although all of the details aren’t available, it appears that the 12 million undocumented immigrants would be able to come forward and obtain a ”Z visa” and, after paying fees and a $5,000 fine, and returning to their home countries, could be eligible for a track to permanent residency. They would be able to come forward right away to claim a probationary card that would let them live and work legally in the US and more importantly travel between the US and Ireland. The path to permanent residency or citizenship, I believe, will not be available until certain border security improvements and a high-tech worker identification program were completed.
Although the compromise contains some problematic areas with regard to the temporary guest worker program and the family-based immigration system, the Irish Apostolate USA is pleased that a solution to the immigration crisis may be achieved this year and looks forward to working with all parties to accomplish this end.
The hope of real and lasting reform for the undocumented Irish appears imminent. However let us not take it for granted. Let us pray that the initiatives outlined will bear fruit and that the undocumented and their families can embrace soon on Irish soil. As Pentecost approaches let us ask the Holy Spirit to guide and direct those with responsibility for the negotiations that are taking place as the Senate moves towards voting on the proposed legislation. We also pray for guidance and discernment for those who will be charged with the implementation of the much hoped for reform.
Once again, thank you for your work, for your mission and for your desire to serve those in need. On a personal note I wish to thank you for the kindness you extended to me on my last visit and I look forward to meeting with you later in the year. I thank all those attending this evening’s function. Your financial and moral support for the work of the centre is greatly appreciated. I am sorry that I could not be with you but I administer the Sacrament of Confirmation at this time of year in the Diocese of Derry. However I know I am ably represented by Father Tim O’Sullivan who is a member of our Board.
Yours sincerely in Christ,
Chair of Irish Episcopal Commission for Emigrants
Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Fr Alan Hilliard Director Irish Episcopal Commission for Emigrants (087 7477 110)