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Obama pledges new drive on US immigration reform

Obama’s second term could be good news for the estimated 50,000 Irish people living illegally in the United States.

Image: Charles Dharapak/AP

US PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA has confirmed plans for comprehensive immigration reform, shortly after his inauguration to a second term, laying out a pathway to legal status for tens of thousands of Irish people living in the country illegally.

Speaking at his first White House news conference since his re-election last week, Obama noted the strong turnout by Hispanics in the elections, which he said was a positive sign of their empowerment.

“So we need to seize the moment,” he said. “My expectation is that we get a bill introduced and a bill introduced and we begin the process in Congress, very soon after my inauguration.”

Obama said the bill his administration would introduce would retain strong border controls and penalise companies that hire undocumented workers, while opening an avenue for those who are already based in the US to be legalised.

“I think there should be a pathway for legal status for those who are living in this country, are not engaged in criminal activity, are here simply to work,” he said.

Obama said there were signs that Republicans are rethinking their opposition to immigration reform and noted it had once drawn bipartisan support from the likes of former president George W Bush and Senator John McCain.

The Irish government has been keen to advance legislation which would offer undocumented Irish immigrants the opportunity to apply for visas granting them the right to live and work in the country, but recent attempts had stalled in advance of the Presidential and Congressional elections.

Yesterday, a former Democratic congressman briefed an all-party group of Oireachtas members on the prospects of successful reform of the immigration system.

Bruce Morrison, a former congressman for Connecticut, said the next six months were crucial if a long-lasting solution was to be reached.

Independent TD Denis Naughten said it was “clear that the current bipartisan discussions between Senators [Charles] Schumer and [Lindsey] Graham are crucial to developing a strategy for immigration reform that could be successfully progressed through both Houses of the US Congress.”

Schumer and Graham have both sponsored legislation which would see a fixed number of working visas allocated to Irish nationals each year. Key among these are plans to issue 10,500 E3 working visas to Irish citizens.

It is not clear whether the new Congress will share the same appetite for reform; the matters are complicated by the fact that Republican senator Scott Brown, who had co-sponsored Schumer’s bill, lost his Senate seat in last week’s election.

Fianna Fáil senator Mark Daly said he would be forming an all-party Oireachtas committee to work on lobbying US politicians on the issue.

Additional reporting by AFP

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Gavan Reilly

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