Irish Immigration Reform Movement

Irish Immigration Reform Movement Records (AIA 016)

New York University’s Division of Libraries acquired the records of the Irish Immigration Reform Movement for the Archives of Irish America in December 2006. The collection is arranged in six series, described below. The inclusive dates are 1984–2007, with the bulk of the material between 1987–1991.

  1. Series I. Administration, 1985–2003
  2. Series II. Fundraising, 1987–1993
  3. Series III. Legislation, 1986–1990
  4. Series IV. Lobbying, 1984–1997
  5. Series V. Publications, 1978–2000
  6. Series VI. Nonprint materials, 1986–2007

The Irish Immigration Reform Movement (IIRM) was a grassroots organization established in 1987 whose primary objective was to legalize the status of undocumented immigrants from Ireland and 34 other countries adversely affected by America’s 1965 Immigration Act. The IIRM ceased activities in 1992.

Working for legislative reform, the IIRM grew from a small New York-based group to a national organization with branches in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, Washington, Kansas City, San Francisco and San Jose. Combining traditional grassroots activism with inside-the-beltway lobbying, the IIRM leveraged Irish-American political influence to help shape U.S. immigration policy in the late 1980s and in the process energized the Irish-American political presence in Washington.

Photo. Sean Minihane and New York State Assemblyman Joe Ferris at a IIRM Legislative Breakfast in  Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, New York, c. 1989.  Records of the Irish Immigration Reform Movement (AIA16), Archives of Irish America, New York University. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Photo. Sean Minihane and New York State Assemblyman Joe Ferris at a IIRM Legislative Breakfast in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, New York, c. 1989. Records of the Irish Immigration Reform Movement (AIA16), Archives of Irish America, New York University. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The Immigration Act of 1990 (H.R. 4300) stands as the primary legislative legacy of the IIRM. This legislation provided a three-year transitional visa program through which 48,000 visas were granted to Ireland, as well as the annual diversity visa lottery program which continued into the twenty-first century.

Reflecting the IIRM’s “all-Ireland” perspective, the transitional visa program contained a provision defining Northern Ireland as a separate state. This unique element, secured through intensive lobbying by the IIRM, enabled thousands from Northern Ireland to participate in the visa lottery who, prior to this, had been ineligible because the United States’ immigration system classified them as English.

The IIRM was also instrumental in securing 25,000 visas for Ireland through several extensions of the Donnelly Visa program from 1988 up to the implementation of the Immigration Act of 1990.

In order to address the day-to-day problems of documented as well as undocumented Irish at that time, IIRM members established the Emerald Isle Immigration Center (EIIC), which since 1988 has served as a model for similar advice and advocacy agencies in the United States. It operates New York City offices in Woodside, Queens and in Woodlawn, the Bronx.

The Irish Immigration Reform Movement (IIRM) records chronicle its activities on behalf of undocumented Irish immigrants between 1987 and 1991. The collection also includes materials related to the 1988 establishment of its sister organization, the Emerald Isle Immigration Center (EIIC), and to that organization’s work meeting the day-to-day needs of immigrants through 2007.

The IIRM story unfolds through minutes, correspondence, petitions, flyers, legislative and lobbying materials, membership and financial records, publications, posters, photographs, clippings, and ephemera generated by the New York office and by branches across the country. While its constituency was primarily “New Irish” who had emigrated in the 1980s, the IIRM papers document relationships with the previous generation of Irish immigrants as well as with the Irish-American community; see, for example, files on the Immigration Subcommittee of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Irish Immigration Working Committee as well as many of the organizations represented in Series II Fundraising. Among the correspondents are top Irish government officials like Charles J. Haughey (1925–2006) and Brian Lenihan (1930–1995); and members of the U.S. Congress, including Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), Bruce A. Morrision (D-CT), and Charles Schumer (D-NY).

Photo. IIRM members with Congressman Bruce Morrison (center) in Washington, D.C., c. 1989.  Standing from Morrison’s left are Mae O’Driscoll, Sean Benson, and Lisa Johnston.  Records of the Irish Immigration Reform Movement (AIA16), Archives of Irish America, New York University. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Photo. IIRM members with Congressman Bruce Morrison (center) in Washington, D.C., c. 1989. Standing from Morrison’s left are Mae O’Driscoll, Sean Benson, and Lisa Johnston. Records of the Irish Immigration Reform Movement (AIA16), Archives of Irish America, New York University. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

In 1988 the IIRM hired the lobbying firm of Holt, Miller and Associates to assist them to plan and organize to bring their message before the United States Congress. They worked closely with its principal, Harris N. Miller, a veteran of the Immigration and Refugees Subcommittee staff of Ron Mazzoli (D-KY), who had given his name to the bill that created the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. A significant portion of this collection documents Miller’s work on behalf of the IIRM in 1988 and 1989. In addition, there are extensive papers (including reference materials) relating to various House and Senate bills on immigration reform between 1986 and 1990, especially H.R. 4300 (Immigration Act of 1990). Of particular interest is Don Martin’s testimony on Legal Immigration Reform to the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and International Law in September 1989 (Box 7, Folder 14); and the IIRM’s “Case for Immigration Reform” presented to Joe Moakley (D-MA), Chairman on Rules, U.S. House of Representatives in 1990 (Box 12, Folder 22).

Advertisement.  Carl Von Ohlsen featured his great-grandmother, Mary Kingsley, from Broadford, Co. Clare in this promotion for the IIRM, c.1989.  Records of the Irish Immigration Reform Movement (AIA16), Archives of Irish America, New York University. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Advertisement. Carl Von Ohlsen featured his great-grandmother, Mary Kingsley, from Broadford, Co. Clare in this promotion for the IIRM, c.1989. Records of the Irish Immigration Reform Movement (AIA16), Archives of Irish America, New York University. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The Emerald Isle Immigration Center’s work in the late 1980s – particularly its efforts to obtain bank accounts, driver’s licenses, housing, medical insurance, education, and legal protection for undocumented immigrants – constitutes another large segment of the IIRM papers. EIIC records from 1990–2007 which were accessioned with the IIRM papers have remained integrated in Series I Administration; the later years reflect services that include job-training and placement as well as citizenship and voter registration drives as a means to empowerment. In 1998 the EIIC presented President Bill Clinton with the Paul O’Dwyer Peace and Justice Award at a White House ceremony on September 11, 1998 (Box 13, Folder 9).

The efforts of key individuals on behalf of the IIRM and the EIIC are documented in Series I in the files of Sean Minihane, Patrick Hurley, Sean Benson, and Brian O’Dwyer as well as in the minutes of the Steering Committee and National Council which can be found in Series IV.

Among the historic publications included in this collection is “Tarnishing the Golden Door,” the 1989 report of the New York City Commission on Human Rights.

Series VI. Non Print Materials includes an IIRM public-service announcement made in September 1987 by entertainer Tommy Makem; a 24-minute video, “The New Irish in America: Living in the Shadows” made in 1987 by the IIRM; and two mini-DV cassettes recording the IIRM’s 20th anniversary reunion event held at New York University in October 2007.

The Ireland House Oral History Collection (AIA 030) includes interviews with Irish Immigration Reform Movement leaders Sean Minihane, Patrick Hurley, Mae O’Driscoll, Sean Benson and Lisa Johnston, as well as with Fr. Colm Campbell, Patricia O’Callaghan, Adrian Flannelly, and Donald A. Kelly, who worked with the undocumented Irish during the 1980s.

To consult with the archivist about your specific research needs and to make an appointment, please send an e-mail to: irishamerica.archives@nyu.edu