Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore yesterday expressed hope that the momentum pushing the US towards immigration legislation would benefit the 50,000 Irish living in what he described as a “twilight zone”.
The foreign affairs and trade minister was lobbying politicians on Capitol Hill at the start of a two-day visit to Washington during which he hoped to capitalise on a “critical time” in a process that has gained support on the right from conservative politicians hoping to plug into the Latino vote which carried President Barack Obama last November.
The Senate has already approved the wide-reaching legislation and it is currently moving through the House of Representatives before it eventually lands on the president’s desk.
Mr Gilmore began his day with prominent Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, the first of a handful of meetings with Republicans which included Senator John McCain of the ‘Group of Eight’, a bi-partisan group supporting the bill.
But he did not manage to get beyond the chief of staff for Speaker of the House John Boehner, on whom much of the immigration lobby’s hopes are pinned.
“We’ve been working on this for quite a while,” Mr Gilmore said when asked if his visit would sway any Republicans. “Today is not the beginning of what we’ve done on this issue from the time that this Government was formed.
“The purpose of the visit today and tomorrow is to seize that momentum and be here at a critical time.
“I’m conscious of the fact that we’re here at a time when the Republican party in particular are considering the detail of the legislation and how they’re going to handle it in the House of Representatives. That’s why a lot of the meetings I will be having are with Congressmen and Senators on the Republican side.”
Mr Gilmore also spoke to several Democrats.
“There are lots of Irish families who have sons and daughters, brothers and sisters who are living here in the United States some for many years,” he said.
“They are not legal here. They are not documented. They can’t get back home for family funerals or for family events and they are living in a kind of twilight zone here.
“We want to make sure that they are looked after in this legislation and right through these two days I will be talking with Congressmen and Senators to make sure that the interests here of the Irish immigrants are looked after.”
“I do understand that the immigration is a sensitive political issue in the United States and I do understand of course that getting legislation through the House of Representatives will be complex and will be difficult. I know that Congressman Ryan is in favour of dealing with the problem of immigration… It is of course wider than the Irish problem. There are about 11 million people who are living in the United States and who are not legal here so I know it is a much more complex issue.” Last night, the Tánaiste was due to meet with Irish-American groups such as the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, the Chicago Celts and the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
The two-trip to the US capitol concludes today with a business breakfast for US companies followed by a speech on the EU Presidency and other issues at the city’s European Institute. There will also be a meeting with a White House official and later, after lunch, the IMF First Deputy Managing Director David Lipton.
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