NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The Irish in New York. The story pre-dates the founding of the United States and it is still being written today.
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“We implement the ancient Irish spirit of welcome, which is the Gaelic word failte, so everyone is welcome here,” said Paul Finnegan, executive director of the New York Irish Center in Long Island City, Queens, where you’ll find tea and scones on the table. “We offer a broad range of classes in Irish culture. We put on events which have an Irish flavor to them.”
They also have concerts and movies.
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You’ll find step-dancing and fiddle lessons at the Aisling Irish Community Center in Yonkers.
“On Saturday morning, we have Irish language classes,” said board chair Agnes Delaney.
She says they help the young and the old find work and housing and they link them with social services. In recent years, with Ireland’s economy in tatters, there’s been a new wave of immigration.
“We probably see about 300 people come through these doors every week,” said Delaney. “More and more are coming, especially for the last four years, since 2008, when the economy in Ireland started to go down.”
She says they are well-educated and eager to work.
“It’s not that they’re walking in the door and saying ‘Poor me.’ They’re walking in the door and looking for the adventure and looking for work,” she said.
“I get e-mails all the time from people in Ireland wondering how they can come to live and work legally in the United States,” said Finnegan. “We’ve had some great volunteers here. You know, they’re in their 20s and they’ve had to go back and we have who will be heading back in April because his Visa has run out.”
It’s a struggle. Immigration advocates are pushing the Irish E-3 visa bill, which would give these new immigrants a legal path to stay in the U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer is a big supporter, but it’s a bit of a prickly issue with unemployment still relatively high.
“Nobody’s looking for preferences for the Irish. We’re just looking for a level playing field,” said Finnegan.
But he is hopeful.
“I have a very hard time telling people in Ireland that want to come here that they really shouldn’t consider it unless they have a viable option to become legal here,” he said.
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