Ireland’s government wants the United States to legalize Irish illegal aliens in the United States, underscoring the intense interest foreign governments are showing in the immigration debate now playing out in Congress.
Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern met yesterday with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and told reporters the Irish parliament has endorsed Mr. Kennedy’s bill to grant illegal aliens now here a multistep path to citizenship.
“We do support it … completely and on an all-party basis, and I want to tease out with him how he sees this matter progressing, particularly given the recent developments, not least the speech by President Bush,” Mr. Ahern said.
The issue receives substantial coverage in Irish expatriate newspapers in Boston and New York, but Ireland isn’t the only nation to enter the immigration debate. This week, Mexican President Vicente Fox said Mr. Kennedy’s bill is his preference, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Mr. Kennedy’s proposal would create a guest-worker program open both to new workers from overseas and current illegal aliens. After six years, workers could get a green card, putting them on a path to citizenship. The bill also calls for stricter border security — something the administration says it’s already doing.
Yesterday, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff warned of one such measure aimed at one group of aliens — those who enter the U.S. illegally from countries other than Mexico (OTMs) — telling them that if caught, they will be detained until deported.
“The word on the street used to be if you were a non-Mexican and you were caught, you would be released and therefore you were home free. And I know that’s a very bad message,” Mr. Chertoff said. “We are reversing that: If you are caught at the border, you are going to be detained … until you’re sent back again.”
His comments were in response to the “catch-and-release” policy, in which illegal aliens from countries other than Mexico, when detained by the U.S. Border Patrol, get Homeland Security notices to appear before an immigration judge, although fewer than 13 percent show up. Mexicans are immediately returned to Mexico.
Mr. Chertoff said an expedited removal program instituted in all nine Border Patrol sectors on the U.S.-Mexico border will allow agents to detain and later remove OTMs in as little as 32 days. He said expedited removal would give Homeland Security “the ability to gain greater control of our borders.”
He acknowledged during a press conference that expedited removal targets only detained illegal aliens from Honduras, Brazil, Nicaragua and Guatemala who have spent less than 14 days in the United States and who are caught within 100 miles of the border.
Mr. Chertoff declined to predict whether the department would extend the program further into the nation’s interior, but described criticism of the limits as “overblown.”
Border Patrol Chief David V. Aguilar, who attended the press conference, called the expedited removal program “a very critical piece of the solution of reducing the number of illegal incursions” along the nation’s Southwest border.
Chief Aguilar noted that agents along a 200-mile stretch of border in South Texas apprehended between 3,000 and 4,000 Brazilian illegal aliens every month this year until July 10, when the expedited removal program was implemented. Since then, he said, the number has dropped to between 300 and 350 a month.
Despite the number of OTMs, the issue of U.S. immigration law affects Mexico, which accounts for millions of illegal aliens, most of all. By comparison, U.S. government figures say Ireland, accounted for just 3,000 illegal aliens in 2000.
“Illegal Irish immigration is very small, and government estimates shows that it’s trivial — well less than a hundredth of a percent, and the estimate shows it’s falling,” said Steven A. Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration Studies, who said it doesn’t make sense that Ireland would take a position in the debate.
Still, Mr. Kennedy yesterday said illegal alien Irish will benefit along with other illegal aliens.
“Those Irish that are here, that haven’t adjusted their status, this would permit them to initially adjust their status, pay a small down payment, indicate a work record and deal with other kind of security issues and be able to work towards both a green card and citizenship over a number of years,” Mr. Kennedy said.
Previously other sponsors had called the $2,000 fine “hefty,” rather than the “small down payment” Mr. Kennedy called it.
A spokesman for Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and a sponsor of a measure competing with Mr. Kennedy’s, said the Irish endorsement doesn’t affect the debate.
“We are a lot more concerned about what the people in Texas have to say, frankly,” Don Stewart said.
Even as Ireland pushes for looser U.S. immigration laws, it has been doing the opposite at home, passing laws aimed at combating illegal immigration, increasing the number of deportations and ending birthright citizenship for anyone born on its soil.