At a question-and-answer session in Derry, N.H., Ciaran Staunton, 44, accused Romney of taking a hard-line stance against illegal immigrants."Today, we are continuously being referred to almost as criminals," he said. "They are mothers and fathers of American children. ... Have you no shame?"Romney replied that he supported legal immigration, but wanted to enforce laws against illegal immigrants."They should get in line if they want to become a citizen," Romney said. "But there should be no special pathway placing them ahead of the millions and millions who are waiting legally in line around the world to come here."It is a sensitive issue for Staunton, a native of Ireland who is the vice chairman and co-founder of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, as well as the owner of O'Neill's Restaurant in Manhattan.Staunton often travels across the country speaking in favor of immigration reform, and said Romney's record on immigration was positive when he was governor of Massachusetts.As a presidential candidate, Romney has called for biometric ID cards, border fences and reducing federal funding to cities that do not track illegal immigrants."It's almost a latter day McCarthyism, where the undocumented immigrant is a bad person," Staunton said.The Irish Lobby estimates there are between 40,000 and 60,000 undocumented Irish immigrants currently living in the United States. Staunton said it has been "virtually impossible" for the Irish to legally immigrate since sweeping changes to immigration law in 1965 eliminated the national quota system. Instead, most Irish people looking to move arrive as tourists and overstay their visas, he said.The lobby was founded in 2005 by Staunton and current Chairman Niall O'Dowd. Most recently it was a powerful force in the failed initiative for comprehensive immigration reform undertaken by the Democrats in Congress in 2007, gaining the support of U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), who is also running for president.Staunton said the Irish lobby is politically well connected, but he said immigration issues affect a wide spectrum of people other than just the Irish."Whether you're from Galway in Ireland or from Guatemala, it's the same laws," he said. "If you're taking away driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants, you're hurting the Irish community, and you're hurting every community."Staunton said the immigration stances of U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Clinton are among the best in the current race, but he would not endorse any candidate."I'm not favoring anyone," he said. "Rather I'm opposed to someone along the lines of Huckabee or Romney on this issue."Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@tim
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