Irish immigrants, after centuries of British religious, economic and political oppression, contributed to the creation of this great nation. General George Washington recognized this on March 16, 1780, by declaring St. Patrick’s Day a holiday for all his troops in gratitude for the courage of the Irish in his command. In 1812, we again defended America from attacks by the British. Later, our Catholic immigrants founded the AOH in America to fight discrimination, prejudice and attacks on our families, churches and religious leaders by nativists and Know-Nothings.
The Medal Of Honor, presented by the President of the United States on behalf of Congress is the highest recognition of valor in combat. It has been awarded to more Irish-born fighting heroes than all other countries combined. Many AOH Divisions across the US are named for our Medal of Honor recipients. Our culture and heritage as Irish Catholic Americans greatly depend on a flow of Irish immigrants coming to the US legally.
When the quota for Ireland was taken away, replaced by family preference and work related visas by the Immigration Act of 1965, we lost nearly 18,000 annual immigrant visas. Our Order and other Irish American activists opposed the move. US Legislators emphatically assured Irish Americans that we would not be adversely affected.
The change meant that cumulatively 860,000 immigrant visas had been lost by the Irish in 2017, the 52nd year. In recent years, Ireland has received just 15,000 of the c. 10. 5 million US permanent resident visas issued globally. That is 0.001% of the total involved. We now feel that the time has come to fix this injustice.
The 2016 elections were the most turbulent US elections of our lifetime. 2017 will usher in change at every level: Congress, the Judiciary, and Executive Branches. AOH members are rightfully concerned as to how these changes will affect Irish immigrants, legal and undocumented. They truly desire to regularize their immigration situation and to continue to contribute as best they can to US society, as previous generations of Irish migrants have likewise done. Hibernians know our unique role as leaders in our communities. We are well respected by our legislators, and we can help.
Remember, Brothers, the Irish Republican Deportees who fought for Peace and Justice and the approximately 50,000 undocumented Irish are already upstanding members of our communities, paying taxes and making social security contributions. They face deportation, separation from their US-born families and need our help.
Also, Irish people weighing the option of coming to the US are alarmed by campaign promises eliminating legal work visa programs (J1 Summer and 12-month visa program and H1B visas) and the already measly Irish allotment of Diversity Visa. ( Approx. 117 Irish visas out of 50,000 total last year) Without visas, they will not come and join our Irish American community.
At this time, we strongly advise that Irish immigrants be wary of scam websites, and con artists that would prey on them at this time. Please direct anyone seeking advice to contact an Irish Immigrant Center (A list of Centers is found at www.ciic-usa.org) or the regional Irish Consulate. Irish Immigration Centers are now receiving increased demands on staff and volunteers due to urgent queries since the election. They need our Hibernian help, both supporting their fundraisers and through your volunteerism. Together we can help our most vulnerable community members.
The Preamble to our National Constitution tells us we must encourage an equitable U.S. immigration law for Ireland, and to cooperate with groups for a fair American Immigration Policy. Immigrants, along with our children, remain the future of Irish America and the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America.
If your Division doesn’t have an Immigration Chair currently, I would ask that you consider volunteering for this important job or please send me your email address for updates. The AOH Immigration Chairs and I work with Irish Immigration Centers, local legislators, and the Irish Consulates to help those in need of advice. We depend on your continued support of favorable measures on Irish Immigration. You can advocate for an allotment of 18,000 renewable Immigrant visas to Ireland, ending the plight of the undocumented and finally a Peace Process dividend for the Irish Republican deportees.
I wish you and your family enjoy a Happy, Blessed Christmas and a Healthy and Prosperous New Year. Please pray and remember the Irish undocumented immigrants, who cannot join loved ones in Ireland during this festive and Holy Season.
Yours in our Motto of Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity,