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Sheila Gleeson speech

Thanks to you all for the opportunity to speak her on behalf of a segment of our Diaspora community who often have no voice. I’m talking about Irish immigrants who are living here in Boston and across the US without proper documentation. They live quietly and often fearfully in the shadows, not drawing attention to themselves. Every morning they wake up and risk everything because if they come to the attention of ICE for any reason they will be jailed and deported. They also live in fear of a phone call from home that will tell them that a parent or other family member has been taken ill or has died; knowing that traveling home is out of the question.

Mairtin, in a recent Irish Echo Article described “a distinct community within the Irish Diaspora here in the US”: They are young, employed, tax-paying, and usually resident in the U.S. for eight years or more. They also share one other trait, they are undocumented. Most of them came here in the 1990’s when times were different. Attitudes to immigrants were more favorable and work was plentiful. Over the years many set up businesses, got good jobs, met their future partners and as years went by it became increasingly difficult to leave.

In the meantime our immigration laws have gradually become more and more restrictive and punitive and opportunities to legalize have been reduced. There is widespread agreement that the immigration system needs to be reformed but negative attitudes towards immigrants have made finding a solution a difficult challenge to date.

Numerous polls indicate that the majority of Americans favor a solution that involves justice and fairness for the immigrants involved. With President Obama and Congressional leaders in favor of reform we are cautiously optimistic that a resolution can be found soon.

The rhetoric that has framed the immigration debate has been bitter and negative. What we need is a more civil, pragmatic approach that looks at the immigration system identifies the problems and recommends positive changes that will allow us to move forward.

The “ask” today is that you all join the undocumented immigrant community here in Massachusetts and across the country whether they come from Donegal or Derry, Cork or Kerry. We need everyone on board on both sides of the Atlantic to help. We need to remember and revive the words that have always described immigrants; they are the workers, the builders, the entrepreneurs, the employers, the taxpayers; The leave their homes and all they know not to break laws or seek services but to work hard, start businesses, be successful and contribute. We need a workforce that will help our both countries to grow and prosper economically and we need an immigration system that will allow immigrants to participate, be re-united with their families, be fathers/mothers to their children and visit elderly or sick relatives and a system that will allow the free flow of talent and ingenuity between our countries.

On behalf of the thousands of undocumented Irish immigrants living in the US I thank you for your interest, support and recognition that all the members of our Diaspora are important and all contribute to the richness of our community.

In the context of the Conference today –Building Bridges of commerce, education and friendship – there is a compelling and urgent need to build that bridge that will allow the undocumented members of our community to come out of the shadows.

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