Wednesday, February 22, 2006

D'emigrants and d'immigrants

Long ago, starting from Famine times, the Irish people went to the States, the UK, Australia and Canada in their droves. In latter years some got turned away and went illegal, some got Morrison visas (which even then were seen to favour Ireland disproportionately over poorer nations). We continued to produce children for export (no contraception) and threw them on the mercy of the rich.

Fast forward past, oh, when Fitzer stopped running the country further into the ground to the 1987 government, Mac the Knife and the proposal of the IFSC. All of a sudden the need to emigrate to find work started, slowly at first, to evaporate. Shortly after that people started to turn up at the doorstep looking to live here, and not just Jeremy Irons and his pink castle in West Cork either. Some of these people were even "coloured". The same colour as the people on the collection boxes adorned the tills in country shops and Trocaire boxes at Easter.

Now, some countries would have taken their newfound attractiveness as an opportunity. God knows, we knew about any immigration system worth talking about and could have, from bitter experience, put one together which mixed decency and the needs of the country in equal measure.

Needless to say, we didn't take that road, enforcing the worst of all worlds with asylum seekers arriving from all sorts of places and dumped in B&Bs with no support and no right to work. Meanwhile legal immigrants ran the gauntlet of the Aliens Office of the Department of Justice and in search of visa stamps pushed from Garda pillar to Garda post (not the officers' real names). The husbands of badly needed Filipino nurses weren't allowed to work and those same nurses are being cheated when they get here by being offered lesser contracts than previously promised, with threats of deportation in the same manner as Brazilian meat factory workers whose bosses hold their passports.

At least then we might have had the good manners to recognise that since we were no longer the poor man of Europe, we didn't really have a sympathy vote and therefore abiding by the immigration laws of countries like the US might be a good idea, especially post 9/11 and the Americans chucking overstayers into jail rather the Aer Lingus to Shannon. Again, that would be assuming too much. On Funferal, Andrew Ó Baoill points out the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, which seeks "immigration reform in the US" and sympathy for the plight of "the undocumented". There's a blog for those illegals who want to tell their story.

For those non-Irish readers who can't parse the language here, "immigration reform" means illegals getting amnesty and "undocumented" means illegal visa overstayer. Back in Ireland, "immigration reform" means signing bilaterals with Romania and Nigeria voiding asylum applications from there and "undocumented" are "'fugees, who get free cars from the government and are taking our jobs and women" (especially dodgy if they are - eek - coloured!)

Maybe it's because emigration is not a major factor in my family, maybe it's the recollection of how tough it was to get through Citizenship and Immigration Canada to achieve legal status here and maybe it's the hypocrises outlined above, but I find myself with little sympathy for the illegals. The Americans are entitled to control their immigration and if crackdowns come on illegals, the legals will be profiled and suffer for it.
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