Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform Chairman Billy Lawless welcomed the passage of the Senate’s historic immigration reform bill on Thursday.

Speaking outside the chamber where the vote passed 68 to 32 he said “This is a huge day for immigrants, particularly for the Irish with the inclusion of the Schumer E3 visas that will allow 10,500 new Irish visas every year and for the bill’s path to citizenship for the 50,000 Irish undocumented living in the shadows.”

The bill won all 52 Democrats’ support as well as the votes of 2 independents and 14 Republicans.  The bill further strengthens border security after the Hoeven-Corker amendment was added this week, which among other things increases spending on the border to $45bn, doubles the number of border agents from 20,000 to 40,000, will see the construction of 700 miles of new fencing and increases the use of drones.  In effect this militarizes the border and will provide one border guard for every 250ft. 

Opponents argue that the border has never been more secure with current spending of $17bn on border enforcement adding up to more than the combined budget s of the CIA, FBI and Secret Service but Republicans insisted on the moves to secure their support.

The Chicago Celts have a great friend in Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), a leader in the Senate and member of the Gang of Eight, the bipartisan group of senators who drafted the bill.  The Celts joined Senator Durbin in his office immediately after watching the vote pass in the Senate viewing gallery where they heard him thank all the immigrants groups for their hard work in making the moment possible.  Senator Durbin along with Senator Schumer (D-NY) was also a key supporter of the Irish E Visa included in the final bill.

Durbin acknowledged the need to achieve a similar bill in the House.  The fight now moves to the Republican dominated House of Representatives where the water is a bit murkier.

“The Irish need to mobilize across the country in their local districts and let their congressmen know that immigration reform with a path to citizenship for the undocumented is critical for our community”, said Lawless.

Friend to the Chicago Irish, Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) has been working behind the scenes with a bipartisan group of congressmen to draft a House bill that achieves many of the same goals as the Senate bill.  Lawless expects to see this bill made public in the coming days and argued that the enforcement only, stand-alone bills floating around the House will not fly.  Notably Gutierrez has also assured the Chicago Celts that any bill he produces will include the Irish E3.

The Chicago Celts will now shift their focus after months of lobbying the Senate in Washington DC to the House of Representatives.  Together with the Irish Embassy, the AOH and ILIR they will focus in particular on Republican congressmen who are crucial to any bill passing.  After meetings in Chicago and Washington with Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) Lawless feels that the Republican leadership understand the need for immigration reform.  “Congressman Ryan assured me of his support for immigration reform including the path to citizenship for the undocumented and the Irish E3 visa. But he also understands how difficult the House will be” said Lawless.

Before catching a flight back to Chicago to celebrate the win again with Senator Durbin and other pro immigrant groups he quipped ” But if there’s one thing the Irish like it’s a good fight so let’s take this all the way to the House’.

*Breandán Magee is the Executive Director Chicago Irish Immigrant Support.