Taoiseach urges Obama to be ‘flexible’ on immigration

In letter to US president, Enda Kenny writes of ‘warm appreciation’ of immigration efforts

Barack Obama being introduced ahead of his immigration speech in Chicago by Galway restaurateur Billy Lawless, who moved to the city 16 years ago and became a US citizen in July. Photograph: Larry Downing/Reuters

Barack Obama being introduced ahead of his immigration speech in Chicago by Galway restaurateur Billy Lawless, who moved to the city 16 years ago and became a US citizen in July. Photograph: Larry Downing/Reuters

 

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has asked President Barack Obama to be “as open and flexible as possible” to allow as many undocumented Irish to visit Ireland under his new immigration changes announced last week.

In a letter to the US president, Mr Kenny praised his immigration orders, saying they would “transform millions of lives”.

Mr Kenny expressed hope in the letter, sent on Tuesday, that by “building on those steps” taken by the president, the US Congress would pass comprehensive immigration reforming legislation.

The White House released the letter ahead of Mr Obama’s speech in Chicago to rally support for his presidential orders last week, which will protect up to five million undocumented immigrants, including, it is estimated, thousands of illegal Irish living in the United States.

Mr Kenny applauded the US president, expressing his “warm appreciation of the very important step you have taken to help undocumented migrants” living in the United States.

“In all our earlier conversations, we have spoken about the tremendous human cost for our undocumented community arising from the inability to travel back to Ireland,” the Taoiseach wrote.

“I have shared with you some of the heartbreaking stories – parents dying without seeing their children, funerals unattended, family milestones missed.”

Mr Kenny said he knew there would be “some capacity” for certain undocumented Irish immigrants to “travel home” and that he understood the full details must be worked out in the coming weeks.

“May I repeat my earlier pleas that the arrangements be as open and flexible as possible. Our embassy will stay in the closest touch with your team as these arrangements are fine-tuned,” he said.

Mr Obama was introduced at the Chicago event ahead of his immigration speech by Galway restaurateur Billy Lawless, who moved to the US city 16 years ago and became a US citizen in July.

Introducing the US president at his second speech in his campaign to build support for his immigration changes, the Galway man said that he, his wife Anne and his four children moved to Chicago in 1998.

“We really wanted to see if we could succeed in the United States and live the American Dream,” Mr Lawless, a leading immigration activist in Chicago, told the audience of 18,000 people.

He said they built up their business from one Irish-themed pub to a group of three restaurants and he is planning a fourth outlet.

His business has grown from employing 10 people to more than 260. “This is what we immigrants do,” said Mr Lawless to cheers.

In his speech, Mr Obama said that immigrants had made the city of Chicago.

“We are Swedish and Polish and German and Italian. Everybody’s Irish on St Patrick’s Day,” he said to laughs from an audience gathered at a Polish community centre on Chicago’s North Side.

Showing the economic benefit of legalising immigrants, Mr Obama held Mr Lawless up as an example of how creating a path for immigrants creates jobs.

He said he was a business owner in Galway and emigrated because he “had a thing for the United States”, said Mr Obama.

“I always wanted to see if I could hack it with you guys,” the president said, quoting the Galway businessman.

Mr Obama joked that Mr Lawless came to his home town to open an Irish pub “because there was a shortage of Irish pubs in Chicago”.

He praised Mr Lawless and his son Billy for growing their business from one Irish bar to a number of restaurants.

“Together they have gone from employing 10 workers to employing more than 250 workers and you just heard what Billy said: ‘This is what immigrants do,’” said the president, quoting Mr Lawless’s remarks.

Urging support for his immigration reforms protecting up to five million immigrants from deportation, the president cited an unnamed study, which said more than a quarter of all new businesses in the US were started by immigrants.

Mr Obama’s address was disrupted for 20 minutes by three female protesters calling for an end to deportations.

A White House spokesman said that Mr Kenny’s letter serves “as an example of the broad and diverse support” for the president’s actions.