Irish immigration campaigners in America have urged Eamon Gilmore, the tanaiste, to take with him an all-party delegation of TDs and senators to Washington to lobby members of the US Congress.
A cross-party group from the Oireachtas committee on foreign affairs cancelled a planned lobbying mission to Capitol Hill this week when the department of foreign affairs announced that Gilmore was traveling at the same time to lobby members of the House of Representatives.
Ciaran Staunton, the president of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, said Republican House members would make crucial decisions on immigration reform in the next fortnight that would affect the fate of 50,000-60,000 ‘undocumented’ Irish immigrants in America. ‘We have always asked that the Irish parties come over here as a political bloc, not as individual parties,’ said Staunton.
‘If the tanaiste comes, I hope he brings some of the TDs and senators who have worked so hard over the years and have built up contacts on the Hill.’
Gilmore has scheduled meetings this week with Kevin McCarthy, the Republican party whip in the House; and Paul Ryan, chairman of the House budget committee; and with prominent Irish-American republican congressmen Peter King and Richard Neal.
He will also meet Bob Goodlatte, a Republican with a very conservative stance on immigration; Nancy Pelosi, the Democrat minority leader; and Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat immigration reformer.
Mark Daly, a senator and Fianna Fáil spokesman on the Irish overseas, appealed to Gilmore to take a cross-party group including Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Fein and independent committee members.
‘It should be an all-party delegation going over to ensure people with contacts in the House of Representatives get across how important this issue is,’ said Daly.
‘We were planning to go this week but the word back to the committee from the Department of Foreign Affairs was that the tanaiste should go on his own. This debate is entering a critical phase.’
The US Senate last week backed a bill sponsored by New York Republican Charles Schumer that would give illegal Irish immigrants in America a ‘pathway to citizenship’, allowing them to travel and work on temporary residence visas until their American citizenship finally came through. It would also give 10,500 visas a year to new Irish immigrants.
The immigration debate now switches to the House of Representatives, where reform measures face stiffer opposition from Republicans. John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House, said he will not put Schumer’s Senate immigration bill to the lower chamber without support from a majority of the Republican party, called ‘a majority of the majority’.
Schumer said, however, that the Republican party’s national leaders will press Boehner to pass a bill. Immigration reform is seen as a key issue for America’s Hispanic electorate who voted 70/30 for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney last year.
A spokesman for Gilmore said there had never been any suggestion that the minister for foreign affairs and the Oireachtas committee would be part of the same delegation, and the clash of dates had been coincidental.
He said it was up to the foreign affairs committee when its delegation travelled.