By Pamela Duncan
An immigration Bill passed by the US Senate on Thursday brings undocumented Irish in the US a step closer to being allowed to “emerge from the shadows”, the Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has said.
However, chair of the Ireland America Association, Senator Mark Daly, has warned that there is still “a long way to go” before US immigration reform becomes a reality.
The legislation now passes to the House of Representatives, where the Republican Party holds a majority and a significant opposition exists among its conservative members.
Mr Gilmore will travel to Washington DC in coming weeks to lobby politicians on Capitol Hill on immigration reform.
The Tánaiste welcomed “the considerable bipartisan support that has emerged in support of the Senate Bill”, adding that he hoped “this bodes well for its further prospects”.
The Bill provides for a 13-year path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million unauthorised immigrants living and working in the US.
“This is a very positive development that takes us another step closer towards addressing the problems faced by undocumented Irish emigrants in the US and allowing them to emerge from the shadows,” he said.
Mr Gilmore also welcomed provision for a new three-year work permit, known as the E3 working visa, which would allow 10,500 Irish citizens with a secondary-level education to find work in the US annually and provided for the continuation of the summer J1 visa programme.
Fianna Fáil Senator Mark Daly said the passing of the US Senate Bill was “hugely important” for the estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish living in the US.
“At present, thousands of undocumented Irish are confined to the US and can’t return home to see their loved ones or to attend weddings and funerals,” he said.
“Many of these people are married with families and are fully tax compliant. It is only right that they should be offered an opportunity to become US citizens.”
However, he said the House of Representatives would pose a greater challenge, especially as house speaker John Boehner has said he will not bring an immigration Bill to the house unless it has the support of a majority of Republicans.
Despite this Mr Daly said he remained “very hopeful” that immigration reform could be achieved and called on both the Government and Irish people with contacts in the US to lobby on behalf of undocumented Irish emigrants.
“A lot of people in the US have Irish heritage and a lot of people here in Ireland have relatives and friends over there who they can contact and make the case of the 50,000 undocumented.
“There must now be a concerted diplomatic effort by the Government to lobby members of the House of Representatives to support this Bill.”
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams TD said the Bill had the “potential to lift the fear of discovery and expulsion from undocumented Irish citizens working in the USA” and commended the efforts of the Irish Immigration lobby and the Senators who supported it.
“It is a measure of the importance of this legislation that it received bipartisan support in the Senate, but now it must go to the Congress to clear the final hurdle,” he said.
“I would urge all of those Congress members, particularly those from both main parties, who have been hugely supportive of the Irish peace process, to work together to facilitate the passage of this legislation.”