Last week was a big one for the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform in Washington, D.C. The group sent close to 50 representatives from key states across the U.S. to D.C. and they were rewarded by a surge of interest on the immigration reform issue.
Even President Obama got in on the act, using direct ILIR language at the White House reception on Friday evening in Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny’s honor.
“When the first large wave of Irish immigrants set sail for the New World, many of them were already tired, hungry and desperately poor. And life wasn’t always easier in America. Many jobs were closed to Irish immigrants — with signs announcing “No Irish Need Apply” — and many of the ones that were available involved long and dirty and thankless tasks that made life difficult and often too short,” the president said.
“But the Irish worked hard. And they persevered. And they supported each other in tight-knit communities, united by faith, where doors were always open and hands were always extended in hard times.
“So the American Dream has always been the Irish American Dream. And that’s why so many of you have been working with us to fix our broken immigration system. Under today’s laws, many of your parents and grandparents may not have made it here. And too many men and women who want to contribute to our economy are being denied that chance. There’s no reason why we can’t do for this generation of immigrants what was done for a previous generation, to give them that chance.”
Those are the strongest words yet by an American president recognizing that the Irish have an immigration problem too, and it is one caused by an unfair immigration system put in place by the 1965 Immigration Act.
For his part, Kenny also took his stance from ILIR. His words at every speech addressed the issue, none more eloquently than from the White House stage.
“This evening, as we celebrate St. Patrick, who was himself an immigrant, Mr. President, I am heartened by your words, and I thank you for all you are doing and others in this great country are doing to help our men and women living here undocumented. We know America will sort this out,” Kenny said.
Kenny’s words and scope of meetings went far beyond any other Irish leader on this issue and reflects ILIR influence.
Irish Ambassador to the U.S. Anne Anderson certainly had primed the pump well with a top class series of meetings on Capitol Hill, many with key Republicans who have previously been hostile to immigration reform.
Meeting old friends, especially on the Democratic side, has been the time worn Irish government ritual for St. Patrick’s Day, in addition to platitudes and niceties. Kenny changed all that with his latest visit, making his claim that the undocumented issue needs to be sorted out in bold and thoughtful words.
The prospects may be tough, but politics is a strange game and sentiment can turn on a dime at times.
ILIR has ensured that the Irish voice has been heard all the way up to President Obama, and that Kenny has toughened his message at a critical time.
There were many momentous and important events this St. Patrick’s season, but getting the message on the Irish undocumented was the most important of all. ILIR certainly succeeded in doing that.