On a visit to Mexico on Monday, President Barack Obama told reporters that immigration reform would have to wait until next year, although movement will begin on the contentious issue in fall.
Citing too much on his legislative plate as the reason he is sidelining his plans to address immigration reform before the end of the year, Obama said he has to move on heath care, financial and energy reform in the coming months, and doesn’t want immigration to get mired in the middle.
“Am I going to be able to snap my fingers and get this done? No. This is going to be difficult,” said the president about an immigration reform bill.
“It’s going to require bipartisan cooperation. There are going to be demagogues out there who try to suggest that any form of pathway for legalization for those who are already in the U.S. is unacceptable. And those are fights that I’d have to have if my poll numbers are at 70 or if my poll numbers are at 40. That’s just the nature of the U.S. immigration debate,” said Obama on Monday.
However, the president did say he aspires to have draft legislation ready before the end of the year.
“What we’ve been able to do is to begin meeting with both Democrats and Republicans from the House and the Senate,” he said.
“Secretary Napolitano is coordinating theses discussions, and I would anticipate that before the year is out we will have draft legislation along with sponsors potentially in House and the Senate who are ready to move this forward, and when we come back next year, that we should be in a position to start acting.”
Obama said he hopes to create a stronger border security presence and allow those who currently are undocumented, including an estimated 50,000 Irish people, to come out of the shadows and live legally in the U.S.
“We can create a system in which you have strong border security, we have an orderly process for people to come in, but we’re also giving an opportunity for those who are already in the U.S. to be able to achieve a pathway to citizenship so that they don’t have to live in the shadows,” said the president.
Although slightly disappointed with the news that it will definitely be 2010 before legislation may be passed, Irish undocumented living in the U.S. told the Irish Voice that they trust Obama and are confident now more than ever on a successful bill in the next year or two.
“It took years in the late eighties to get an immigration bill passed so I wasn’t expecting anything to happen by the end of this year,” said Sean, 29 from Tyrone, who asked to withhold his second name because he is undocumented.
“I’m fine if we get something by 2010 or even 2011,” he said.
Sean, who has been living in the U.S without papers for six years, had all his eggs in one basket two years ago when the immigration issue was hot.
“I was so sure a few years ago that Kennedy and McCain would get a bill passed and some kind of law would have come from it that I even booked a ticket home for the following Christmas. I wasn’t long canceling it,” laughs Sean.
“I am more positive this time though. I think Obama is the man to get the job done. If I had a vote I would have definitely given it to him.”
Steve, a Kerryman living in the shadows of New York for the past 11 years, also remains optimistic despite having experienced first hand the emotion of Congress rejecting a proposed bill in the past.
Steve is under the impression that Obama is stalling until 2010 on the immigration issue because he wants to have everything in place before the battle begins.
“I think he (Obama) wants to have all borders secure in order to move forward without any deadlock on the border situation,” he said.
“I feel that he is in the process of bringing both sides together so that he will then call upon the right people to bring it out in the open then next year when the time is right.”
Steve, an active member of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR) said it’s time to rally up the troops again and get the ball rolling on campaigning.
“It’s time for all the immigrant communities to stand together and let their voices be heard,” he said.
Another Kerryman, Don, 34, who has also been living in New York equally as long as Steve, said that although he feels “frustrated” by the news on Monday, he believes that Obama is still being true to his campaign promise, to address immigration reform during his first term as president.
“He (Obama) seems to be keeping to his word overall. He is addressing the issues that he promised during the campaign, just at a slower pace than expected. I think we as illegals should be happy it is even being discussed,” he said.
Paula, 26, a Leitrim immigrant who moved to Boston a little over a year ago to find work, is happy to hear that Obama wants to address the issue next year.
“It will be great if he can get us green cards. I haven’t been home to see my family or friends in a year and I’d really like to visit but there is nothing at home in terms of jobs so I’m not going to take the chance until the president gets us papers,” said Paula.
“I think Obama will do the right thing. He is a decent guy and I’m sure he will convince those who need convincing that something needs to be done for those of us who have no papers.”
Chairman of the ILIR, Bartholomew Murphy, told the Irish Voice on Tuesday that it’s “disappointing” that the Obama administration seems to be taking its foot off the pedal on immigration reform.
However, he said, “Ultimately, ILIR and the 50,000-plus undocumented Irish in the U.S. remain hopeful that President Obama will keep his word on comprehensive immigration reform and expect Congress to pass reform as soon as is practically possible.”
Murphy continued, “ILIR will continue to lobby for comprehensive immigration reform for the 50,000 undocumented Irish in the United States as well as for a path for future flows of Irish immigrants, and ILIR will continue to work on Capitol Hill with Senator Charles Schumer and Congress member Zoe Lofgren and those drafting the legislation in this regard.”