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US Sen. Brown continues push for Irish work visas

By Steve LeBlanc
Associated Press / March 16, 2012
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BOSTON—Aides to U.S. Sen. Scott Brown say he's continuing to push for passage of a bill he co-sponsored in December that would allow more skilled Irish workers to gain U.S. work visas.

The Massachusetts Republican said the bill was designed to address what he said was a disproportionate immigration backlog for Irish immigrants going back to 1965.

Since then, he said the Irish have fallen further behind in the nation's immigration system.

The bill, which Brown co-sponsored with Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, would add Ireland to the E-3 visa program, providing 10,500 employment visas that have no limit on the number of renewals allowed.

"Sadly, inefficiencies in our immigration program have resulted in increasingly poor prospects for Irish immigrants," Brown said when he filed the bill.

"Legal immigration is the foundation of America, and we must continue to find ways to improve our visa and green card programs, especially when it comes to the treatment of our strongest allies and closest friends," he added.

An earlier version of the bill authored by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., would have also added Ireland to the E-3 visa program. Schumer's bill would have given visa waivers to illegal Irish immigrants.

Brown and Kirk's version eliminated that portion of Schumer's bill, and would instead require illegal Irish immigrants to return home in order to apply for the visas.

Critics have faulted Brown for focusing on one ethnic group that also happens to be politically important in Massachusetts.

Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, praised Brown for wading into the contentious immigration issue, but said he should look beyond one group.

"We encourage him to look at the whole big picture on immigration reform and the outdated laws we have because there are many nationalities," she said. "The immigration issue is a big one and it's not about one group. It's great to have additional visas, but he has to go further."

The bill's fate remains unclear.

Last month, Brown said the bill was "ready to pop." Brown's aides say he's still working to negotiate its passage, but note that Democrats are the majority party in the Senate.

"Sen. Brown continues to work with members on both sides of the aisle and is hopeful the Senate will act quickly to pass this legislation," said Brown spokeswoman Marcie Kinzel.

The focus on Irish immigration isn't unique to Brown in a state where many citizens can trace their roots back to the country.

Brown won election to the Senate seat formally held by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, an Irish-American lawmaker who also championed immigration issues before his death from brain cancer in 2009.

Brown could also use any help he can get among Irish-American voters as he faces what could be a tough re-election campaign this fall. Nearly a quarter of Massachusetts residents have Irish ancestry -- about double the national average.

Recent polls have shown Brown opening up a modest lead on his chief Democratic rival Elizabeth Warren, but both candidates have been busy stockpiling millions for what could turn out to be the costliest Senate race in Massachusetts history.

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