Ahern Says Illegal Deal Extremely Difficult

IRISH Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern told Dail (Parliament) members on Wednesday, February 6 that the issue of the Irish undocumented in the U.S. would be hard to resolve in the coming months.Ahern, who was questioned by Labor Party leader Eamonn Gilmore and Fine Gael member Michael Ring, was asked if he would be exploring "possibilities for resolving the problems faced by the undocumented Irish in the United States" during his upcoming address to the joint houses of Congress and his St. Patrick's Day visit. He said a resolution to the issue for the Irish is unlikely at present due to the presidential election campaign."Deputies are probably aware that it is unlikely there will be a resolution of the immigration issue in the U.S. before the presidential election. All of the main players and all our supporters in both houses of Congress have made that clear to us since last year," said Ahern."We were very disappointed that efforts by the U.S. Congress to pass the comprehensive reform legislation were unsuccessful, because we had put a good deal of effort into that, as had members on all sides of this house."Ahern did mention to the Dail that the government is continuing to explore bilateral options to regularize the status of the thousands of undocumented Irish. "We have engaged in wide-ranging consultation with members of Congress, the U.S. administration and the Irish community there, to assess how this might be achieved," he said, but went on to say that the timing is off. "However, it will be extremely difficult to secure such an arrangement, given the nature of the immigration debate in Washington. For obvious reasons that are not Irish-related, this is a passionate and divisive debate."Explaining to Dail members that this will be the third year he will be discussing the Irish undocumented issue with leaders on Capitol Hill during his annual visit, Ahern also reminded them that a motion was agreed upon last November which supported efforts to establish a reciprocal bilateral arrangement which would benefit Irish and American citizens seeking to work and travel between and within the two countries, and his strong commitment to continue to engage towards resolving the issue of the undocumented. "While U.S. political leaders fully acknowledge that the number of undocumented Irish is extremely small in the overall context, there is an understandable reluctance to single out one particular group for preferential treatment, and therein lies the difficult," he added."I do not believe anyone is against our cause, but when taken in its totality they cannot deal with it. We will, of course, continue our efforts for as long as it takes, and I shall certainly work on it again next month at the meetings that I will have."Members of the undocumented Irish community in New York were not satisfied with what they called Ahern's "shelve the issue" position.Deirdre Foy, who has been living in the U.S. for 11 years, expressed her upset with Ahern's attitude towards her situation. "I'm very disappointed with his comments. Both he and (Foreign Minister) Dermot Ahern have promised our community that every effort was being made by the Irish government to rectify the Irish undocumented situation in the U.S.," she said.Asking if Ahern had forgotten the cross-party agreement that was entered into last fall in which all Irish political parties pledged to do their utmost for the undocumented, Foy said, "Those of us here in the U.S. don't have the same short term memory like they do and neither do our friends and family in Ireland. His comments have not been taken lightly on either side of the Atlantic."Samantha Melia, who has been living in New York for eight years with her husband Liam, was also upset with Ahern's comments."He is an absolute disgrace - I just don't understand the whole thing. There are other countries that negotiate deals, such as Australia or Chile. Why can't we?" she questions.Melia feels the Irish government has left down its Irish citizens. "Bertie will go down in history for the man who turned away an opportunity that was created by the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR) to get status for the undocumented Irish," she said.Melia, who has made the life changing decision to leave the U.S. after eight years because of her status, suggests the Irish government should use the landing of US military troops at Shannon airport as a bargaining chip."We give the United States Shannon so why can't we get 10,000 visas for our citizens in return?" she asks.A spokesperson for the Irish government in the U.S. assured the Irish Voice on Tuesday that finding a resolution for the estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish is still "top or our agenda."Referring to Ahern's comments that have caused upset within the Irish undocumented community, he said, "I think he (Ahern) was just talking about the current situation of comprehensive immigration reform putting it in the context of the election - in fact it's looking very positive with the three candidates that are ahead. I can understand people reacting to a comment interpreted wrongly but everyone is fully engaged in this," the spokesperson added.Michael Ring of main Irish opposition party Fine Gael, who asked the question of Ahern in the Dail, was unimpressed with what he heard in response."Despite previously agreeing a motion with Fine Gael last November to seek a bilateral agreement on this issue which would benefit Irish and American citizens seeking to work and travel between and within the two countries, the taoiseach has done nothing to move this forward," Ring said."Bertie Ahern is traveling to the U.S. for St. Patrick's Day. I would urge him to push for a resolution to this issue when he is there."The Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform's Executive Director Kelly Fincham attended a strategy council meeting of the Coalition for Comprehen-sive Immigration Reform in Washington on Tuesday. Fincham was surprised to learn at the meeting that the Hispanic caucus in the House of Representatives is spearheading an effort to negotiate a five-year temporary work and travel visa for the undocumented as part of a package which would see passage of a bill aimed at expanding the H-2B temporary work visa program."Surely our representatives in Washington should have told us that the issue of immigration reform is still being debated in Congress. It's not dead. It's not off the agenda," Fincham said."The issue is still very much alive in Washington with the Hispanic caucus effort at the moment to try and cobble together some sort of legalization program in this Congress in this session."Commenting on the trip to the U.S. by Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who is currently visiting all the Mexican immigration centers across the country to ensure the undocumented Mexican community that they have his backing, Fincham said, "It is interesting to note that the president of Mexico is currently in the U.S. rallying the Mexican undocumented community and reaching out to them to let them know that he has not forgotten them and he is working on their behalf to find a solution."

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