Friend of Ireland: Congressman Richie Neal (right) with Ireland's Foreign Minister Micheal Martin

The Friends of Ireland leader in Congress, Congressman Richie Neal of Springfield, Massachusetts, sees immigration reform as a real possibility early in the New Year.

Neal was speaking to the Irish Voice during a visit to New York on Monday morning. He is also a powerful member of the Ways and Means Committee and a senior figure in the House of Representatives.

He especially pointed to the role of Congressman Luis Gutierrez, the Chicago area representative who has become a vital figure on the immigration issue.

Gutierrez has visited Ireland with Neal, has appeared at the lobby days for the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform and has made it clear that he views the Irish as vital allies in the fight to achieve reform.

Gutierrez was especially impressed with the Irish lobby outreach to Republicans, which the Hispanic lobby has found difficulty in doing said Neal.

During the last immigration battle, Senator John McCain credited the Irish lobby with getting at least four Republicans to come onside for the Kennedy/McCain bill.

Gutierrez has met with President Obama on the issue on several occasions. Because both come form Chicago there is a deep and respectful relationship on both sides, according to Neal.

Neal believes that Gutierrez has been the lightning rod that pushed the Obama administration to announce efforts to push through immigration reform early in the New Year.

Neal states that there is widespread consensus that no deal can be done later in the year because of the 2010 elections.