Though immigration reform advocates suffered a big setback with the Supreme Court decision last month to block President Obama’s executive orders that would have provided relief for childhood arrivals and undocumented parents of U.S. citizens, Ireland’s ambassador to the U.S. Anne Anderson has vowed to continue the Irish government’s push for relief for the undocumented -- even though, she said, some of the immigration discourse on the 2016 presidential campaign trail has been “shocking.”
On Tuesday, the ambassador delivered a speech at the biennial convention of the AOH and LAOH in Atlantic City that outlined the difficulty supporters of reform have encountered -- a reality magnified by the campaign of GOP presumptive nominee Donald Trump, who has centered his White House quest on the construction of a wall on the Mexican border, and the deportation of the undocumented currently here.
Though Anderson didn’t mention Trump by name, she said Irish immigration activists “have to soberly remind ourselves of the repeated setbacks and disappointments of recent years. Clearly there are no certainties. Over the past months of the presidential campaign, the anti-immigration rhetoric we have heard in some quarters has been shocking.”
Relief for the undocumented Irish has been a centerpiece of Anderson’s time in Washington, D.C. She has consistently advocated for both the undocumented and immigration reform that would allow for a future flow legal Irish immigration to the U.S.
“We have knocked on so many doors. we have made our case over and over, we have felt ourselves on the verge of a breakthrough only to be set back again, and for months now, there has been an extended stalemate as the November elections cast their long shadow,” Anderson told the Hibernian delegates.
“The Supreme Court decision last month, which stymied President Obama’s executive action on immigration, was another grievous blow.”
Anderson added, “I am conscious of how deeply this frustration is felt in the community. All of us know people who are affected, who are trapped in their lives in the shadows, and who, every single day, feel and live the consequences of Congressional inaction. “
Though Anderson cautioned AOH members that there are “no certainties” given the volatile state of the U.S. election so far, she expressed hope that “logic, common sense, economic self-interest, will ultimately prevail.”
Should that be the case, Anderson urged AOH members to remain diligent in their efforts to ensure immigration reform.
“If things are indeed to move in 2017, now is the time to lay the groundwork. As far as the government and our diplomatic network are concerned, I can pledge that no effort will be spared,” she vowed.
“The taoiseach and ministers will continue to raise the issue at every opportunity. We will monitor the presidential campaign platforms and robustly make our case to whatever administration emerges, and we will continue to try to energize and enlist members of Congress to our cause.”
Anderson praised the AOH for its efforts on immigration reform, particularly the organization’s national immigration chairman Dan Dennehy.
“I am conscious of all your work at community level to extend a helping hand to the undocumented. Together, let us do everything possible over the months ahead to try to give this a final push forward,” Anderson said.
Ireland’s first female ambassador to the U.S. touched on a number of topics during her speech to AOH delegates, including the fallout from the U.K.’s Brexit vote from an Irish perspective, and the hugely positive U.S. 1916 commemorations.
With regards to Brexit and the potential for a new hard border between the North and the Republic Anderson said, “For our government, the priority is clear: we do not want a situation where the border between the two parts of our island hardens. We have come too far, and too much has been sacrificed, for that to be allowed happen. The focus of the government’s efforts will be to protect all the progress achieved through the Good Friday Agreement and successor agreements, and build on it further.”
Anderson added that the possibility of a referendum on a united Ireland isn’t likely in the near future. The AOH national leadership called for a vote on a united Ireland last month, given the Brexit result.
“It is our belief that such a poll could be divisive at this time, that there is very little possibility of it being won in any event, and that it would distract from the absolute priority of protecting the gains of recent decades,” Anderson told delegates.
“We believe that the immediate priority should be for the two governments and the Northern Ireland Executive to work urgently and intensively together to find solutions to the various challenges that a U.K. exit will present.”
With regards to the overwhelming success of the 1916 celebrations throughout the U.S., Anderson said, ”We have seen the energy that is generated when we come together around common projects, when there is a sense of connection to something larger. Let us consider how we might distil the essence of this, and examine whether there are ways we might apply that same energy and spirit in other shared causes and endeavors.”
She also touched upon the fact that the Irish aren’t the demographic force they used to be in America, and that the challenges for the community are changing as a result.
“As avenues for legal immigration from Ireland have narrowed over recent decades, there are markedly fewer first and second generation Irish,” Anderson said.
“Especially against this background, the challenge for Irish America is one of constant renewal – valuing our roots and our past, but being ready to rethink and reimagine. This is what our forebears did: taking the emigrant ship, reinventing themselves in their new homeland, adapting and changing with each generation.”
The AOH and LAOH will elect new leadership on Thursday. Outgoing presidents are Brendan Moore and Mary Hogan. The AOH’s highest honor, the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Memorial Medal, will be awarded to Major General Patrick Henry Brady at the closing banquet of the convention on July 14.