President pledges support for undocumented Irish in the US

Higgins says there is ‘nothing more important’ than helping immigrants during visit

President  Michael D Higgins has voiced his support for the undocumented Irish in the US. File photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

President Michael D Higgins has voiced his support for the undocumented Irish in the US. File photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

The undocumented Irish will never be left aside, President Michael D Higgins has said.

Speaking at a reception in San Francisco, California, on Sunday, he said he was ”very, very well aware” of what not having papers must feel like, “the risks and the shadowy life a person has to live sometimes”, along with the “continuing insecurity not only for oneself but for others”.

“There are people who are working very hard and contributing to the economy and they are suffering . . . because of the circumstances in which they find themselves,” he said.

He said the undocumented Irish, who are working in the US without visas, not only had “our hopes and prayers”, but also a “practical agenda of work” to help them.

The Irish Consulate, the Embassy and the Irish Government were working on it, he said.

He paid tribute to the Irish Ambassador to the US, Anne Anderson, and her work for the undocumented.

“We couldn’t have a better or more competent person advancing what is a very important issue for Ireland,” Mr Higgins said.

The reception, at the United Irish Cultural Centre, was part of the second leg of Mr Higgins’s official visit to the US west coast.

The event was attended by more than 140 guests, many of whom had emigrated in the 1960s and 1970s.

Mr Higgins told them there was “nothing more important” than looking after the different streams of immigrants as they arrive.

He also noted that those present had lived rich and fulfilling lives in San Francisco.

He also told them he believed “this word retirement is ridiculous”.

“I don’t like it particularly,” he said. “You should be open to experiences until you draw your last breath.”

He said it was “a ridiculous assumption that there is any one period of your life when you are innovative or creative.

“You can be creative right up to the end,” Mr Higgins said.

Irish immigrants

Among those in attendance at the centre was Mary St Clair, originally from Moate, Co Westmeath.

The 80-year-old originally came out to San Francisco after being recruited to work as a nurse.

She said she had no trouble securing a green card, which allowed her to stay and work in the country.

“They even paid our way out; I came on the Queen Elizabeth,” she said.

A frequent visitor to Ireland, where she has up to 100 cousins, including golfer Shane Lowry, Ms St Clair said the President’s visit meant a lot.

In San Francisco since 1966, Pauline O’Brien said she came out to work for Bord Fáilte. She also worked at the Irish Consulate for 15 years.

It was her second meeting with an Irish president, she said, as she worked on Mary Robinson’s visit to San Francisco during her tenure in the 1990s.