Taoiseach Enda Kenny has set the tone for his week-long US visit by insisting securing the safety of the estimated 50,000 illegal Irish in America will be one of his "absolute priorities" when he meets Donald Trump on Thursday, writes Fiachra O Cionnaith.
In his first official comments on the five-city trip, Mr Kenny on Saturday night told an Irish-American event in Philadelphia that while "immigration reform" is a "sensitive" issue in the US, it cannot happen at the expense of "hard-working, tax-paying Irish people".
Speaking to the Friendly Sons of St Patrick organisation - a long-standing Irish-American group in Philadelphia which controversially refused to allow women members until just last year - Mr Kenny said Irish people must be protected.
Making no comments about people from other countries who also risk being targeted by the Trump administration, he said Irish people are continuing to contribute to American society and that this cannot be ignored.
"It will be no surprise to anyone here that one of my absolute priorities in meeting Vice President (Mike) Pence, President (Donald) Trump and other senior political figures this coming week is to renew the strong case on behalf of the hard-working, tax-paying Irish people in the United States who for too long now have been living in the shadows, and want nothing more than to continue making their contribution to this great country.
"We all understand that immigration reform is a politically sensitive issue. However, I truly believe that a US immigration system that addresses the needs of the undocumented Irish, and provides for future legal flows, will be of huge benefit to America," he said.
Mr Kenny also used the speech to argue that the Irish recovery is continuing and that the country is in a strong position to entice more companies and inward investment.
Despite acknowledging the potential "troubled waters" facing Ireland due to Britain's now imminent departure from the EU, Mr Kenny said Ireland's economy is in a strong position.
However, he made no mention of homelessness, housing, health service and other crises also risking the recovery, or whether the recovery is spreading throughout the country.
"At home, Ireland continues to emerge from our recent economic difficulties with renewed strength and confidence.
"While there may be troubled waters ahead with the decision of our nearest neighbour, the UK, to leave the EU, I am confident that we are prepared to withstand the challenges ahead.
"There are more than two million people now in work, the highest level since 2008.
"Unemployment has fallen by almost 2% alone in the past 12 months, which is fantastic progress.
"The US also continues to be Ireland’s largest source of inward investment, accounting for around 70% of all inward foreign direct investment, employing up to 150,000 people in more than 700 operations in Ireland," he said.
During the same speech, Mr Kenny praised the Friendly Sons of St Patrick for what he said was a "courageous" step last year to allow women to join the more than 200-year-old organisation.
While the Friendly Sons of St Patrick asked Irish ambassador to the US Anne Anderson to join its ranks as their first female member last year, it and other Irish-American groups with a similar background have been criticised in recent years over their male only membership policy.
The group was set up in the late 1770s as a non-partisan organisation to assist all Irish people in the US.