Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen said Wednesday that Ireland must “empathize with and understand” the American point of view on immigration.

Speaking to the Irish parliament on a debate on the Irish undocumented in the U.S, Cowen said that Ireland can’t make “demands in this regard” but that it should put its case forward “patiently in the corridors of power within the United States at all levels.”

He acknowledged the tensions that can arise from immigration in the U.S, “particularly in the context of significant unemployment in many parts of the States affected by the recession.”

Cowen was responding to a question from Martin Ferris, a Member of Parliament for Sinn Fein, who asked if “anything practical can be done” for the undocumented who were “virtually in limbo”.

Some undocumented “who went there (the U.S.) during the previous recession in the 1980s have not been back here since," Ferris said. "Since many of those young people left, they have suffered family bereavements but have been unable to return home because they fear not being able to return to the U.S."

There were “real hardships and human consequences to the inability thus far to regularize people so that they can come and go,” replied Cowen, adding that the we all are “aware of many genuine and heart-rending stories and know the families and individuals concerned”.

“There is a way forward and a solution can be found if we continue to adopt the right approach. If we proceed on those lines, there are prospects. There are no guarantees the situation can be resolved, but it is a serious domestic issue within U.S politics.

“There are many people of goodwill on both sides in positions of power who are interested in trying to devise a way forward but they have not been successful to date.”

Enda Kenny, the leader of the main opposition party Fine Gael asked the Prime Minister what approach he would take in tackling this issue – seeking comprehensive immigration reform or working towards a bilateral approach.

The Prime Minister replied: “One of the issues that has emerged from the debate is the need for the American public to feel reassured about the safety of its borders.

“When there is public confidence on that issue, the question of dealing with those who have travelled to the US illegally might be addressed in a more positive way than is possible at present.”