There has been a minor spat between the SDLP and Sinn Féin over the issue of the ‘undocumneted Irish’ in the United States.
South Down MLA Seán Rogers (SDLP) has lent support to the undocumented Irish in the US during an Assembly debate on the issue and questioned the commitment of OFMdFM on the issue.
“Many will question just why Sinn Fein has had minimal involvement in the US Immigration debate. Research shows that they have only raised this issue on a few occasions in the Assembly. Some emigrants I know, friends and past pupils of mine living and working in the United States believe the reason for the lack of support from Sinn Féin is as a direct result of the that party’s close relationship with senior anti-immigration reform figures in America.
“But that is a question for Sinn Féin to answer. Perhaps the fact that progress appears to being made in Washington without Sinn Féin’s input is peaking the party’s interest now.
“What is clearer is the lack of action from the Office of the First and deputy First Minister.
“The SDLP question the commitment of the First Minister and The deputy First Minister to raising the plight of the undocumented and getting some positive commitment from the American Administration.
“I have asked many questions on the representations that OFMdFm have made on behalf of the undocumented. In April 2012, after taking many months to answer – OFMdFM told me that the issue was raised ‘in the margins’ of meetings.
“More recently the First Minister responded to me with the words – ‘we are talking about illegal immigrants rather than the undocumented‘. I find this to be an incredible way to treat our people. And yes, they are our people – nationalist and unionist. Americans don’t see any difference in Unionists when they cross the Atlantic – they are considered and are treated as Irish.
“Likewise the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness couldn’t give me any reassurance when I pursued the same issue with him last week.
“There are believed to be 11million illegal immigrants in the United States including anything up to 50,000 undocumented Irish. What I know of the Irish caught up in the debacle each of them is working and paying their way and contributing in full to the fiscal demands of the US Government through their taxes etc.
“We must do what we can to help them and it is vital that OFMDFM take a proactive role in insuring an Immigration Bill comes to the House of Representatives.”
In responding to Séan Roger’s comments, a Sinn Féin spokesperson said: “Martin McGuinness, Gerry Adams and every Sinn Féin representative visiting the United States over the past 15-20 years have raised this issue at the highest level with the US administration.
“They have also had regular meetings with campaign groups lobbying for regularisation of status for the ‘undocumented’. Perhaps Sean Roger’s researchers mistakenly checked on the SDLP record on this issue.”