Speaking to a group of business leaders in downtown Atlanta last week, Irish Ambassador Anne Anderson stressed that immigration reform was a priority.
Anderson told the audience assembled at the Commerce Club that her four top focus areas were immigration reform, relations with Northern Ireland, strengthening education and cultural ties and expanding trade and business relationships.
According to the Global Atlanta, the ambassador acknowledged that the subject of immigration reform was “a roller-coaster discussion,” but also admitted frustration over the difficulties Irish citizens have to live and work legally in the U.S.
“It is very difficult for an Irish citizen to come and work here legally,” she said. “We can’t get in.”
She said that only one-fifth of one percent of all green cards go to Irish citizens.
Anderson called for the US to allow the nearly 50,000 undocumented Irish citizens currently in the country to “come out of the shadows.”
“It is universally recognized that the U.S. immigration system is broken and has to be fixed, but a balance must be found,” said Anderson.
She noted that productive Irish citizens are now moving to Canada and Australia instead.
“They are making a huge difference in those areas,” she said. “This is not a human rights issue; it’s a business issue. These are hugely productive citizens.”
“We are knocking on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s door asking them to open the door for us,” she said.
She added that while she understands the need for countries to have immigration regulations, she said she is working to make the walls “a little more porous.”
In response to a question from the audience, the ambassador said that recent elections have served as a wake-up call for politicians across Europe.
“There is frustration across the European Union and, in Ireland, I think we’ve had a bit of austerity fatigue,” she said.
Anderson’s itinerary in Atlanta included visits to the Coca-Cola Co. and Emory University, where she viewed the Seamus Heaney exhibition and other Irish literary archives. She also gave a speech on Thursday at a luncheon hosted by the Atlanta Council on International Relations.
Global Atlanta reports that Ireland has been extending its diplomatic reach since launching the consulate general in Atlanta four years ago. It is the first new office in the United States since the 1930s, and the first ever in the South.