Move to quell fears of undocumented Irish in US by Kenny

Kenny says he had very ‘beneficial’ discussion on immigration with Trump

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has moved to quell the concerns of undocumented Irish people living in the US after his meeting with President Trump.

Mr Kenny said he had a very “constructive, beneficial” discussion on immigration with the US president during a bilateral meeting at the Oval Office.

The Taoiseach said he had raised both the issue of legal immigration paths for Irish people, including the revival of a stalled proposal of a new E3 visa scheme, as well as the status of undocumented Irish citizens living in the US.

He said the president had been surprised at the number of undocumented Irish living in the country – said to be 50,000 – and had expected it to be much higher.

Mr Kenny said the president had told him his primary focus in terms of immigration was on border security, secondly on those who had criminal records, and then on anyone else who might be undocumented.

“I would say to Irish documented, if there are small issues like parking fines or traffic lights they should clear those up through their legal people, whether they be in whatever city. That’s an issue that can lift the concern and the fear and anxiety that many undocumented Irish might have. At the end of the day this is going to require co-operation on the Hill between Republicans and Democrats.”

Mr Kenny also met the head of the homeland security John Kelly, who has been at the forefront of implementing Mr Trump's controversial clampdown on immigration, at vice-president Mike Pence's residence at the Naval Observatory on Thursday morning.

The Taoiseach also raised the issue in his speech to members of Congress at the annual Speaker’s Lunch on Capitol Hill.

Different era

“On this day, when we remember St Patrick, himself an immigrant twice over to our shores, I urge you to look sympathetically at this issue,” he said, noting that many of them came to America “decades ago, in a different era, and have been caught in limbo without any path to regularise their status”.

The series of engagements in Washington took place against a background of growing controversy over Mr Trump’s travel ban, which was blocked by two federal courts.

Asked if he had raised concerns about the immigration ban with Mr Trump, Mr Kenny deflected the question.

However in his address to the Speaker’s Lunch he said the new US administration “holds within its hands the responsibility of dealing with so many global international issues in a world that is changing so rapidly and that is so fragile in so many respects”.

“I know that you will do your utmost to work in the interests of our common humanity, and you will have the prayers and the support of the Irish people,” the Taoiseach said.

American companies

Mr Kenny said the issue of tax, and in particular the presence of US pharmaceutical companies in


, had been discussed, with Mr Trump noting that pharmaceutical prices in the US were higher than in other places across the world.

“I referred to a number of American companies which had recently expanded in Ireland, and I made the point that these American firms were keen to be seen as global, international players.”

He also told Mr Trump that Irish companies operating in the US were responsible for hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent