With the presidential candidates focused mainly on the threat of an economic collapse and Friday’s foreign policy debate, other campaign issues are not getting a lot of attention. Still, last Monday Sen. John McCain made a campaign appearance in front of a largely Irish-American audience in Scranton, Pa., “often described as the country’s most heavily Irish city,” according to the Boston Globe.
McCain promised to address the issue of immigration if elected. And he said he would put undocumented immigrants “on a path to citizenship,” according to the Irish Voice.
There are 50,000 Irish men and women in this country illegally at this time who are hard working people and who want to become citizens.
It seems many in the audience did not agree with him on the issue, which has been contentious in local campaigns. Irish-American attendees interviewed by the Irish Voice opposed the idea of legalization for undocumented immigrants.
“As a first generation in this country, my mother came over here through all the channels. I don’t see why anybody else should be allowed come into this country and live off of what we have worked for all of our lives,” said one of them.
It may sound surprising, considering the number of undocumented Irish living in the U.S. But as another interviewee said, “I just never thought of Irish as being illegal.”
A local mayor, Lou Barletta of Hazelton, has supported ordinances declaring English the official language and prohibiting hiring illegal immigrants or renting to them. (CNN’s Lou Dobbs introduced him as “the maverick mayor whose crackdown on illegal immigration in his town has made him a national hero,” when he had him on his show a couple of weeks ago.) Barletta is now running for a U.S. House seat and has a shot at defeating the incumbent, based on his anti-immigration politics.
During Monday’s town hall meeting, McCain seemed to acknowledge his own shift on the issue of immigration reform since the times when he pushed a comprehensive reform bill together with Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts — which failed to gather enough support in the Senate. Later, during the Republican primary, McCain turned against his own bill.
“I knew if I took on the issue of illegal immigration, I knew it would hurt me in my party,” McCain told his audience Monday, according to the Globe. “I believe we have to have a commitment – because it’s a national security issue, as well as an economic issue, as well as a humanitarian issue that we enact comprehensive immigration reform.”
The Obama campaign, in the meantime, promised to try to find a date to address the same forum, in response to criticism by an advocate for undocumented Irish immigrants, according to the Irish Times. The newspaper noted that “in Pennsylvania, where the race is tied, 20 per cent of the population claims Irish heritage.”