President Michael D Higgins has said he is ‘much more optimistic’ about reform to help the 50,000 undocumented Irish living in America after a meeting with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
The Irish state leader is on a five day visit to the United States and is keen to raise the illegal issue on his official functions.
After his talks with Mayor Emanuel, President Higgins told the Irish Times that he was very pleased to hear ‘very supportive remarks’ about the plight of 5,000 ‘undocumented’ Irish in the Chicago area alone.
He was also encouraged by indications from the Mayor of likely developments on immigration reform before the end of the year.
Mayor Emanuel, President Barack Obama’s first chief of staff, also discussed cultural, economic and historical ties between Chicago and Ireland at a 40 minute meeting with President Higgins at City Hall.
The Chicago mayor revealed how he had met, along with US homeland security secretary Jeh Johnson, with congressman Luis Gutierrez the previous day.
A champion for immigration reform, he told President Higgins that President Obama would take executive action to overhaul immigration laws if the House of Representatives did not pass a bill.
Higgins told the Irish Times that his discussion with the mayor was ‘all the richer’ for the meetings Mayor Emanuel had about the undocumented during his visit to Washington DC.
The president also outlined the difficulties incurred by the Irish illegals when they return to Ireland.
President Higgins said: “As president of Ireland I am obviously concerned for whatever the figure is, be it 50,000 or whatever, in the United States people who have particular difficulties, difficulties that we were able to discuss in a very human way, that affect families and that affect mobility.”
In response, Mayor Emanuel said: “Immigration reform is about fixing a broken system so that immigrants from Ireland and elsewhere can beat their path to the most American of American cities and can actually then start to put their roots down and continue to contribute to this great city and this great country.”
The mayor described Chicago as ‘the most western county of Ireland’ and noted that the President was the 11th official Irish Government or State visitor to the city.
He added: “On this rate we will hit our 55 millionth tourist to the city of Chicago one Irish minister at a time.”
Mayor Emanuel then invited President Higgins to lead next year’s St Patrick’s Day parade in Chicago and open a new Irish art exhibition at Chicago’s acclaimed Art Institute, the second largest museum in the US.