Where the US Senate leads on immigration reform, will the more conservative House of Representatives now follow? Will the House support legislation to change the status of 11 million people – including tens of thousands undocumented Irish – from that of illegal immigrants to, in time, that of American citizens. The Senate has passed a wide ranging immigration bill that won the unanimous support of Democrats and some Republicans. However, in the House which Republicans control, the bill’s passage remains less certain. Nevertheless, the GOP cannot easily ignore the bipartisan support that exists for sweeping reform, both in the Senate and among the wider American public.
The bill, which President Barack Obama strongly supports having made immigration reform a policy priority for his second term, would involve major extra spending - some $46 billion (€35 bn) to increase security on the US-Mexico border. Republican House Speaker John Boehner has said the House would prepare its own legislation on the matter, with a greater emphasis on border security. This suggests a compromise measure may yet be agreed. The Republican Party is fast losing support among non-white voters who now account for 28 per cent of the US electorate. Among Hispanics and Latinos, immigration reform matters greatly. And Republicans realise they must broaden their public appeal and expand their electoral base if they are to improve their electoral prospects.
For the undocumented Irish in the US, the Senate’s passage of the measure now offers a realistic prospect of change in their legal status. This has been recognised and welcomed by Minister for Foreign Affairs, Eamon Gilmore. As Senator John McCain acknowledged, the bill offers a way to take 11 million people out of the shadows. For the first time in decades, those who have lived in fear as illegal immigrants can live in real hope of a change of status and the opening of a legal pathway to a more secure future.