Time for US immigration reform has ‘long passed’ - Flanagan

Irish community in US has experienced ‘disappointment after disappointment’

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said he would convey to the US vice president Joe Biden and secretary of state John Kerry in meetings today ‘the deep sense of frustration on the part of the Irish community that expectations have been raised in the past and ultimately not realised’. Photograph: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said he would convey to the US vice president Joe Biden and secretary of state John Kerry in meetings today ‘the deep sense of frustration on the part of the Irish community that expectations have been raised in the past and ultimately not realised’. Photograph: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

 

The time for overhauling US immigration laws benefiting an estimated 50,000 illegal Irish has “long passed,” Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charlie Flanagan has said on a visit to Washington.

The Irish community in the US had experienced “disappointment after disappointment” as plans to change immigration laws had faltered in Congress because of political differences, said Mr Flanagan.

“Hot topics are the matter of politics. The fact something is hot - and I acknowledge that it is controversial - but that is no reason for it to be ignored,” said Mr Flanagan after meeting Congressman Joseph P Kennedy of Massachusetts, the grand-nephew of President John F Kennedy, in his Capitol Hill offices.

“I know from my own work as constituency TD in Laois-Offaly the harrowing tales of people disconnected most unfairly over a long number of years from their loved ones,” he said.

He referred to the Irish living illegally in the US who were unable to return back to Ireland for “festive engagements like christening and weddings and traumatic and difficult occasion such as funerals”.

The Senate, with the support of Democrats and Republicans, passed a bill last year that would put an estimated 11 million so-called “undocumented” immigrants in the US on a path to citizenship.

The proposed legislation has faltered in the Republican-led House of Representatives where the party is concerned about granting what they see as an amnesty to immigrants who have breached laws and the level of security along America’s border with Mexico.

Mr Flanagan said he would convey to the US vice president Joe Biden and secretary of state John Kerry in meetings today “the deep sense of frustration on the part of the Irish community that expectations have been raised in the past and ultimately not realised”.

President Barack Obama recently reversed plans to take executive action on immigration, bypassing Congress, shelving the divisive issue until after the Congressional midterm elections in early November when Democrats are attempting to retain control of the Senate.

“There is likely to be executive action on the part of president Obama and I would be urging all concerned to be sensitive to the Irish interest,” said Mr Flanagan on his seven-day visit to the US.

Mr Flanagan is meeting Mr Obama’s advisor on immigration issues Cecilia Munoz, the director of the US administration’s domestic policy council, today.

The Minister said he wanted the US administration to “remain very much involved” and “to renew a specific interest in Northern Ireland matters” following the announcement that new inter-party negotiations on flags, parades and issues of the past would be convened.

“While acknowledging the assistance and the engagement of the United States in the past, I see a role for the US administration in helping and facilitating and supporting the efforts to break the logjam which is unsustainable,” he said.