Kenny in Washington: Contentious US immigration reform ‘somewhat intractable’
Irish Times - 18 March 2015
Taoiseach Enda Kenny used his annual St Patrick’s Day trip to Washington to press for help for illegal Irish immigrants but said there was “an issue” around lifting long-term travel bans stopping “undocumented” people travelling back and forth to Ireland.
Speaking at the annual St Patrick’s Day breakfast for Mr Kenny hosted by vice-president Joe Biden, the Taoiseach said the issue of immigration reform “may well be somewhat intractable”.
Later, after meeting US president Barack Obama at the Oval Office, Mr Kenny described as “a disappointment” the legal stalling of Mr Obama’s executive action designed to bypass the Republican-led Congress and aiming to protect up to five million illegal immigrants from deportation.
The measures were expected to assist illegal Irish unable to return home for family occasions such as weddings and funerals and emergencies without being blocked on their return to the US.
In the Oval Office, Mr Kenny said that he discussed with Mr Obama the possibility of visa waivers that would allow illegal immigrants to return to Ireland without facing three- or 10-year travel bans for illegally overstaying old visas on their return to the US.
He also raised the prospects of the new E3 visa which would give new emigrants a fresh legal route to live and work in the US.
Mr Kenny said that “our real problem” was securing permission for illegals to travel back and forth to Ireland in the absence of a wider agreement.
“And also there’s an issue about [the] waiver scheme and the way it applies,” he added.
Mr Obama said he and Mr Kenny shared the view that one of the great strengths of the United States has been “its willingness to welcome new immigrants to our shores”.
Praising the strong ties between the two countries, he said: “Nobody has contributed more to the growth and dynamism of the US economy than our Irish immigrants. That continues to be the case.”
The US president, wearing a green tie, described the St Patrick’s Day “annual affair” as “always one of my favourites”.
“It allows me to trot out my Irish heritage and brings back incredibly fond memories of my visits to Ireland,” he said.
Speaking at his breakfast, Mr Biden said “genius” was required “on all sides to lock down” the Stormont House Agreement and resolve the ongoing impasse between Northern Irish parties over welfare reform.
Asked after meeting Mr Obama what the president had said about Northern Ireland, Mr Kenny replied: “He expressed his understanding that there’s a bit of an obstacle here, but I explained to him that I expect this can be dealt with.
“It’s a case now for the executive politicians in Northern Ireland and the leadership to sit down now and sort out whatever little obstacles are there.”
The Taoiseach was speaking ahead of the traditional shamrock-giving ceremony at the White House.
Greeting Mr Kenny at his residence in the morning, Mr Biden, who is well known for his gaffes, told reporters gathered for the arrival of Mr Kenny and his wife Fionnuala: “Anyone wearing orange is not welcome in here . . . only joking.”
It appears that we are back to “square one” with regard to immigration reform not only for the Irish, but for all undocumented persons. Also, the proposed Irish E-3 temporary work permits appear to be “dead in the water”. There will be no waivers to allow undocumented Irish nationals to travel outside the U.S. until a wider agreement is reached. Where we go from here is anybody’s guess, but the information in this article is less than encouraging, to say the least, for any new developments to take place in the foreseeable future.
Jack Meehan, National President Emeritus
Ancient Order of Hibernians in America
Boston Irish Group