The U.S. government shutdown, the war in Syria and other issues have taken momentum away from the drive to secure comprehensive immigration reform, Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore says, but the Irish government will continue to press the case for both the undocumented already here, and those who want to emigrate in the future.
Gilmore was in New York last week to represent Ireland at the UN General Assembly and participate in a number of local community events. Speaking to the Irish American media, he said that he was “concerned” that the comprehensive reform effort has lost steam since the Senate passed a bill over the summer.
“When I was in Washington in July I think there was a lot of hope at that stage that we would see legislation progress through the House. This is what we were being told,” Gilmore said.
The Irish government has continued to lobby on behalf of the estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish here and the proposed E-3 visa program included in the Senate package that would guarantee more than 10,000 work visas each year for Irish citizens. Gilmore said that a parliamentary delegation from Ireland would travel to Capitol Hill for a two-day session with members of Congress to further promote the Irish cause.
“What we’re doing is, first of all, at government level, we’re talking to as many people in the House as possible, and in particular we’re talking to those on the Republican side,” Gilmore added.
“It’s fair to say that our concentration now is on those who need to be persuaded, and we are making the case that there are two Irish issues in the fire – the undocumented, and the pathway for future legal immigration.”
The government is focusing on a particular fact that illustrates the root of the problem – the severe curtailment in legal Irish immigration to the U.S. since the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1965.
“There was something like 10.5 million permanent visas issued by the U.S. from 2002 to 2011,” Gilmore pointed out. “Of that, only about 15,000 were given to Irish citizens. I think there are many people who I’ve talked to, a number of congressmen, who were surprised that it’s been so few.
“It is important for the U.S.-Ireland relationship to continue to thrive that the flow of immigration is legalized, and that is an argument we are making.”
If the comprehensive reform effort once again fails, Gilmore said the Irish government would consider a new course of action at that time.
“While I think the climate has cooled a bit since mid-summer . . . we are still closer to [comprehensive reform] than we have ever been, so I think it’s important that we maintain our focus on securing a deal,” he said.
“If it doesn’t succeed then we’ll have to look at what alternatives there are. But right now we’re better focused on getting it done.”
The Irish Embassy, Gilmore added, under the leadership of new Ambassador Anne Anderson, will coordinate with consulates throughout the U.S. and Irish lobby groups to organize a united front.
“She has met with the lobby groups, and what we are going to have is a concerted, organized effort to try and get this over the line,” Gilmore said.
“That means broadening the range of people we are talking to about this issue, something we have been doing for some time.”
On Saturday Gilmore spoke at the new expansion of the Aisling Irish Community Center in Yonkers, prior to delivering the Irish address at the UN.