The White House has asked an Irishman to introduce President Obama before his Chicago speech, on Wednesday, as part of his campaign to garner support for his immigration executive order, protecting millions from deportation.
Billy Lawless, a Galway man who has lived in the United States for 16 years, is a leading activist for the undocumented, Irish and other nationalities, through his involvement with the Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform, the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
He told the Irish Times “I was absolutely stunned when they called me…I feel that it is the work of all the advocacy groups here in Chicago that has really brought this about.”
Obama will meet Lawless and about 15 community representatives for a roundtable meeting to give him feedback on his reforms, at the Copernicus Community Centre, in Chicago.
Speaking to RTE Lawless said that while he welcomes the reforms he would like to see more permanent reforms through Congressional action. He said the limiting deferred action programme to just those with children was unfair.
Lawless pointed out that travel for the Irish is a “major, major issue”, especially when it comes to funerals or seeing family members who are ill. He said the three and ten year bans in place need to be waived in these circumstances.
Lawless has said he intends to talk about his journey from Ireland to the US. The successful businessman and his wife, Anne, became US citizens this July.
He said he believes that Irish lobbying groups had a big influence on bringing about these changes in US immigration policy. He believes this is why he has been chosen to speak.
“Absolutely – there is no doubt about it,” he said.
“The Irish have had an influence. Our lobbying over the last couple of years has paid off. We were a small group but we made our voices heard.”
Lawless is a prominent business figure Chicago with three restaurants, , including The Gage and Acanto on Michigan Avenue. He’s currently planning on opening a fourth.
In Ireland, he ran as a Fine Gael party candidate for Galway City Council in 1991 but was unsuccessful, losing out to Michael D Higgins, Ireland’s president.
Obama’s speech on Tuesday will be his second on the immigration executive orders, officially launched last Thursday. His actions will shield thousands of immigrants from fear of deportation.
Last Friday Obama kicked off his campaign at a Las Vegas high school, Lawless was also present. The President referenced the undocumented Irish living in Chicago to illustration that immigration is “not just a Latino issue.” He emphasized “This is an American issue.”
Chicago has one of the broadest mixes of ethnic migrants in the United States with large Irish, Polish, Ukrainian and Lithuanian communities.
Obama added “I am from Chicago – we’ve got some Irish immigrants whose papers are not in order; we’ve got some Polish immigrants whose papers are not in order; we’ve got some Ukrainian folks.”