The leading Irish chef in the United States has revealed that he once was undocumented in the United States and that he is now ready to fight for immigration reform.
Cathal Armstrong owns Restaurant Eve, in Old Town Alexandria, VA and is a rare four star rated chef (Washington Post) and was recently named Food and Wine’s Chef of the Year.
President Obama and wife Michelle celebrated their 19th wedding anniversary at his restaurant, which often plays host to Washington celebrities.
“I was an illegal immigrant. I was an undocumented worker,” Armstrong told an Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR) meeting in Virginia at the weekend.
He said he was fortunate to eventually become legal, but has a close friend who “has no hope of becoming legal in this country. No hope. He has two kids, he pays his taxes … he has no hope. It’s outrageous.”
ILIR President Ciaran Staunton paid tribute to Armstrong for revealing his former status. “It can’t be easy to reveal you were once undocumented,” he said, “But he has done a great service to the drive to legalize the Irish and other nationalities.”
Armstrong will greatly help in the battle Staunton said. “It is not just about poor immigrants at the borders, it is about people in every walk of life who have to live in the shadows.”
“We can be the generation that rejuvenates the Irish American community, or we can be the generation that lets the Irish American community die,” Staunton said.
The meeting attended by 30 Irish leaders in Virginia took place in Beckett’s Irish Gastro Pub.
Staunton pointed out that Virginia is home to key Republican congressmen Eric Cantor and Bob Goodlatte who are vital for immigration reform.
“There are 100,000 Irish in Eric Cantor’s district alone,” said Staunton. “We have to put pressure on the GOP house leadership to take reform seriously.
This week Congressman Kevin McCarthy, a key figure in the Republican leadership, stated that it was now highly unlikely the House would hold immigration hearings this year. He said it would be dealt with early in 2014.
ILIR has already held meetings in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and North and South Carolina and co-hosted a Washington breakfast for key congressman Paul Ryan, another Irish American.
“It’s important to hear from Irish Americans … Irish Americans have a dog in this fight. It’s virtually impossible to legally immigrate to the United States from Ireland,” Staunton told Buzz Feed.com before the meeting.
There are an estimated 50,000 to 75,000 undocumented Irish immigrants in the United States. Since the 1965 immigration reform law the Irish have been blocked from coming to the U.S.
Staunton said that of 10 million green cards issued between 2002 and 2012, only 15,000 went to Irish applicants.
“Many people see the ‘65 immigration bill as the Irish Exclusion Act,” Staunton said.