US senators plan reform to laws on immigration
A cross-party group of senators has proposed a plan to overhaul US immigration laws that could pave the way to citizenship for more than 11 million illegal immigrants.
The framework proposals agreed between four Republican and four Democratic senators, which would allow legislation to be drafted by the end of March, comes ahead of President Barack Obama’s speech in Las Vegas today calling for urgent immigration reform.
The plan offers hope to the tens of thousands of undocumented Irish living in the US, whose illegal status prevents them from leaving the country to return to Ireland.
A statement of principles, drafted by the senators, sets out a bipartisan plan for one of the most contentious issues in the US in a political move that would have been considered unlikely a year ago.
The cross-the-aisle congressional proposal satisfies Democratic demands for a single comprehensive piece of legislation guaranteeing citizenship to illegal immigrants while appeasing Republicans who want strong border controls and enforcement to prevent foreigners overstaying their visas.
Strong support for Mr Obama among Hispanic voters in last year’s election has focused Republican minds.
The plan kickstarts what is expected to be a long and divisive deliberation in Congress. John McCann, Republican senator for Arizona, said his party had a “new appreciation” of the need to reform immigration law.
“Look at the last election,” Mr McCain said on ABC television on Sunday. “We are losing dramatically the Hispanic vote, which we think should be ours.”
There had been “significant improvements” in the enforcement of border controls but the country had “still got a ways to go”, he said. “We can’t go on forever with 11 million people living in this country in the shadows in an illegal status.”
The other Republican senators supporting the proposed legislative changes are Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Marco Rubio of Florida, who issued his own guidelines for reform three weeks ago.
Mr Rubio, a Cuban-American who is tipped as a future GOP presidential candidate, has said that immigrants who came to the US illegally must wait behind those who followed legal routes.
Senator Charles Schumer of New York was among the four Democrats supporting the proposed framework, which was described by the group of eight as a “tough, fair and practical road map”.
Another group of four senators will introduce a Bill this week proposing to double the number of temporary “H-1B” visas given each year to highly skilled immigrants.
Illegal Irish: ‘Win-win’ for undocumented
The exact number of undocumented Irish in the US is not known but estimated by Irish-American groups to be 12,000 to 50,000.
Ciaran Staunton, president of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, puts the figure at 30,000 to 50,000. The Ireland-US Council group put it at between 12,000 and more than 40,000.
Even though the growing strength of the Hispanic vote has pushed Republicans into action on immigration reform, Staunton believes the illegal Irish will also benefit.
“This legislation will be a win-win for all communities,” he said, while also pointing to the need for it to include measures on “future flow” of Irish immigrants to avoid “recreating the problem”.
David O’Sullivan of the Ireland-US Council business group in New York, considers an amnesty for 11 or 12 million illegal immigrants as “utterly remote”.
A more effective way of helping the Irish undocumented would be for the Irish Government to negotiate a bilateral deal with the US to ease “very strict and highly bureaucratic immigration and work permit rules for American citizens wishing to work or live in Ireland,” he said.