As he made his way along the rope line at the White House Irish reception on St. Patrick's night President Obama encountered three separate queries about immigration reform.
Later, staffers expressed surprise to me that the Irish were so concerned about the issue.
It is obvious however, that key players in the the Obama administration have now become aware of that fact. There are an estimated 50,000 Irish undocumented and more on the way with the economic crisis back home. Now is the time for action.
Obama mentioned his efforts for comprehensive reform in his remarks before 500 leading Irish Americans and it is clear that the matter has begun to surface as his next big legislative effort.
It was no accident that Obama announced it at the Irish party. Earlier in the week Congressman Luis Gutierrez , the key leader in the Hispanic lobby on this issue had announced he was going to oppose Obama's health care plan because of his lack of commitment to immigration reform.
After a frenzied series of meetings Gutierrez suddenly announced he was going to support the health care plan,as were the Hispanic lobby. Insiders say Obama promised in return to lead a push for comprehensive --and to announce it at the White House Irish event as Gutierrez wanted.
That would be no surprise. Gutierrez saw the strength of the Irish lobby in recent years when he attended the Washington rallies held by the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform and almost every major player on Capitol Hill attended. He also went to Ireland on a recent congressional delegation and discussed the Irish role in immigration reform there
Obama also invoked the name of Senator Edward Kennedy on the issue to an Irish audience who considered him a hero. Obama would hardly have invoked Ted Kennedy lightly on this question. The mention of his name in connection with immigration drew loud applause.
Obama said: "He knew, as we do, that our nation is infinitely richer for not only the contributions of the Irish throughout history -– but the contributions of people from around the world. That’s why I’m pleased that there’s bipartisan progress being made in an area that I know was close to his big heart -– and that's fixing our broken immigration system. (Applause.) And that’s why my own commitment to comprehensive immigration reform remains unwavering."
So its game on for immigration reform. If Obama gets health care through he has a shot and the Irish lobby will be in his corner on this one.