Chairman Pat Breen is leading a delegation of the Joint Oireachtas (Irish parliament) Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade on a visit to Washington D.C. today. The group is holding a series of meetings with influential members of Congress in the hope of encouraging comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S.
According to the Irish Embassy in Washington, the Irish Ambassador to the United States Anne Anderson will also accompany the delegation at each of their high levels meetings with predominantly Republican Congress members.
Breen told the Irish Voice: “It’s an opportunity to lobby our U.S. counterparts to garner bipartisan support for the immigration reform legislation.
“We’re targeting Republican Congress members because at the moment there is a high degree of uncertainty among them as regards their capacity to engage in immigration issues,” Breen added.
“This is why we’ve assembled a strong team from the Irish parliament to go out, a cross party delegation from the foreign affairs committee, because we feel we want to target the key players here.”
The cross party delegation includes Deputies Sean Crowe (Sinn Fein), Gerald Nash (Labour) and Senator Mark Daly (Fianna Fail) as well as Chairman Breen (Fine Gael).
Breen says he’s well aware of the positive impact the reform of U.S. immigration laws could have on the tens of thousands of Irish men and women who are currently in the country undocumented.
“We will have a broad discussion with many of the U.S. Irish lobby groups like the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR) before we have a meeting with Congress members on Wednesday. They will fill us in on the feeling out there at the moment. What I’m hearing is there is a window of opportunity. We have to grasp that opportunity.”
The delegation have scheduled a series of meetings with key figures from the House of Representatives including Congressman Paul Ryan, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, Congressman Trey Gowdy, Immigration Sub-Committee Chair Congressman Luis Gutierrez, Immigration Subcommittee Member Congressman Mark Amodei, Immigration Subcommittee Member Congressman Jim Jordan, Immigration Subcommittee Member Congressman Mick Mulvaney, Congressman Peter King, Congressman Richard Neal, and Friends of Ireland Caucus Congressman Chris Smith.
“One of the major players is Paul Ryan, who has indicated his support for immigration reform. We will make a strong case about why immigration reform is so important for Ireland.”
The Irish delegation hopes that it can persuade the predominantly Republican members of Congress to support legislation to legalize the estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish and create a new E3 visa to allow 10,500 Irish to work legally in the country every year.
On Thursday the delegation will meet at the White House with senior officials from President Obama’s Immigration Policy team and the Offices of Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
“There may be another opportunity for a bill in January or February but then you have conventions coming up and elections coming up. It could be too late then. The timing now is better and I would put our chances at 50-50. If the momentum and the will are there.”
The human cost of the being undocumented in the U.S. rarely gets a hearing but Breen says it is very much on his mind, and he cites a local example.
“Recently I saw an undertaker in my own constituency of County Clare put a camera in his funeral home so that people could record funerals for Irish people who couldn’t come home. There are a lot of human stories like that.”