TÁNAISTE AND MINISTER for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore has been telephoning senior US politicians to push hard for a deal on illegal Irish migrants in America.
Gilmore said the signs that both the Republican and Democratic parties support some kind of immigration reform, coupled with several speeches by Obama on the issue, are “encouraging” – but that no firm proposals have yet been put forward.
The Government plans to use St Patrick’s Day visits by TDs travelling abroad to increase pressure for a deal by meeting with key politicians and lobby groups.
Although the exact figure is unknown, there are believed to be up to 50,000 Irish people living and working illegally in the United States without a visa, meaning they cannot hold documentation or return to the country if they leave.
A deal offering some kind of path to legalisation of their status for the tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants has become more likely in recent weeks after Barack Obama used his inauguration speech to signal that immigration reform was a priority for his second term. Discussions are on going in the US Senate and House of Representatives.
Former US presidential candidate John McCain, who is part of a bipartisan group of politicians spearheading the effort to reform America’s complex immigration laws, is due to meet with President Obama on Tuesday and has said he is “guardedly optimistic” that there could be a deal by the end of March.
There are an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States.
Responding to a question in the Dáil, Eamon Gilmore said undocumented Irish workers will be a “critical element of the Government’s engagement with the US authorities, including over the forthcoming St Patrick’s Day period”.
My programme and that of other members of the Government during that period… will include discussions with key political figures on immigration and with the Irish community groups that provide assistance to the undocumented.
“I am currently engaged in a round of telephone discussions with key US Senators to discuss prospects for progress and to underline our ongoing interest in the issue,” he said.
The Tánaiste raised the issue with Hillary Clinton during her visit to Ireland in December in one of her last trips as Secretary of State.