Acknowledging that comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. is a longshot at best, Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore says the Irish government is exploring new options for securing a future stream of visas that would allow for legal immigration to the U.S. from Ireland.
Gilmore was in New York last week for meetings at the United Nations and with members of the Irish American community. During a press briefing at the Irish Consulate on Friday evening, he admitted that his government, in office since February, is working diligently behind the scenes on the immigration issue.
“We are concentrating our efforts on securing an E-3 visa. These discussions are continuing and we are pursuing that,” said Gilmore, referencing the annual 10,500 E-3 visas that are available exclusively to citizens of Australia which allow for indefinite employment in the U.S.
But Gilmore said the government is looking at “other approaches” as well.
“It seems to me that the whole issue has been log-jammed for a long time,” he said. “We are looking at new approaches, and we are discussing that with our diplomatic staff here.”
Gilmore would not reveal specifics about a new Irish government strategy on U.S. immigration for its citizens, but he vowed a serious effort.
“We are looking at every possible variation you can think of to see if we can secure additional visas for Irish people to come to the U.S.,” he said.
Gilmore also said that both himself and Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny raised the issue of Irish immigration to the U.S. with President Obama during this year’s St. Patrick’s celebrations at the White House, and that Irish diplomats in Washington, D.C. are in continuous discussions with Capitol Hill leaders about the matter.
As far as the undocumented currently in the U.S., Gilmore says the government has not and will not forget them.
“Their difficulties are of great concern and we are continuing to work on it,” he says.
The foreign minister, who is also the Irish tanaiste (deputy prime minister), met with a number of Irish immigration groups during his time in New York, including the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, the Emerald Isle Immigration Center and the Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers (CIIC) in the U.S.
CIIC President Siobhan Dennehy said of the meeting with Gilmore, “Lack of immigration status is the basis for most of the workload of the Irish centers across the country. Undocumented Irish immigrants suffer many social issues as a result of living life in the shadows including depression, drug and alcohol abuse, family issues, detentions, deportations and long-term imprisonment.
“The CIIC appreciates the Irish government’s continued support of the services provided by our member centers to the undocumented Irish and the government’s continued work on their behalf.”
Meanwhile, Gilmore spoke to the press on a number of areas, including the candidacy of Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness for the Irish presidency.
McGuinness, a former leader in the IRA, is entitled to run, Gilmore says, but as leader of the Irish Labor party he is focused on his own candidate, Michael D. Higgins.
“I’m not going to enter at all into comments about other candidates,” Gilmore said, even though McGuinness – and his controversial past in the IRA – has attracted a huge amount of attention.
“Voters will look at which candidate is best placed to be the guarantor of our constitution, to be a unifier of the Irish people, and someone they can be proud of to represent the Irish abroad. I believe that is our candidate,” he said.
Gilmore also said that the government is committed to having a constitutional convention on the issue on extending voting rights to Irish immigrants living abroad.
“We’ve set ourselves the objective of having that completed by the anniversary of the 1916 rising,” he said.
With regards to the United Nations, Gilmore applauded Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for calling on the world body to recognize a Palestinian state during his speech last week in front of the UN General Assembly.
“I think it is entirely fitting and appropriate that President Abbas brings his case to the UN,” Gilmore said.
“That’s what the UN is for, and that’s the first place that it should be brought to. Ireland’s view is that we support the right of the Palestinian people to a state. They have as much of a right to a state as the people of Ireland.”