Trump signals support for deal on undocumented Irish in US

US president says he has become ‘fast friends’ with the Taoiseach during St Patrick’s visit

Donald Trump has signalled support for a solution for undocumented Irish people living in the US after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar raised the issue of immigration during his White House visit on Thursday.

Speaking at the annual St Patrick’s Day reception on Thursday night, Mr Varadkar said the Government would match any move by the US administration with similar or better arrangements for Americans in Ireland.

“I know that the Irish people who have made their lives here, including those who are undocumented and living in the shadows, love this country dearly,” he said. “They want to continue to contribute to the life of this great country, and continue to play their part. Their dream will never die.”

Earlier, Mr Varadkar had told the House Speaker’s lunch in the Capitol that he appreciated the “complexity and sensitivity” of the political debate around immigration in the US.


“However, I might simply highlight their [the undocumented Irish] situation – hardworking, law-abiding, tax-paying Irish men and women who share your hopes and your values, who are patriotic and loyal to America – and urge a sympathetic look at this issue.” Mr Varadkar presented the US president with a bowl of shamrock in the White House as his first visit to the White House as Taoiseach came to an end.

Earlier in the day, the two met for 30 minutes in the Oval Office where Mr Trump signalled his support for a deal on the undocumented.

The Taoiseach proposed a reciprocal arrangement whereby US citizens could be given reciprocal rights in Ireland – something that was given a positive reception by Mr Trump, who has taken a hardline approach to immigration since his inauguration.

“There was support and a good degree of enthusiasm from the administration to work on a solution for the thousands of undocumented Irish that are here but are hardworking, tax-paying people who are very loyal to America,” Mr Varadkar said after the meeting.

Shamrock ceremony

At the annual shamrock ceremony at the White House, Mr Trump invited Mr Varadkar back next year, as the US president praised the strength, grit and resilience of the Irish people.

Speaking at the ceremony, Mr Trump said that he and the Taoiseach had become “fast friends”, and predicted that he would still be in the White House for seven more years.

“I look forward to your return next year. In fact, we’ll see you for about, what? Seven more years, I think,” he said, to laughs and applause in the East Room.

Addressing the Taoiseach after he received the traditional bowl of shamrock, Mr Trump said: “We’ve become friends – fast friends – over a short period of time.

“It’s a pleasure to have you, and, on behalf of the First Lady and myself, thank you very much, And Karen and Mike Pence, thank you very much. It’s a great, great group, a great group of people.”

Noting that 30 million Americans – 10 per cent of the population – trace their ancestry to Ireland, Mr Trump praised the contribution that Irish people had made to US society throughout the decades.

“The history of the Irish is one of the proud and faithful people full of love, warmth, grit, and resolve. That’s the Irish. It’s a story that is closely woven into our own.

“Our shared bonds are traced back generations, and all the way to our nation’s founding. At least eight of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were of Irish heritage. And throughout our history, the United States has been enriched by the vibrant culture and enduring contributions of the truly great Irish people, people that we love.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that both men had held a productive meeting earlier in the day. “By talking and listening we both learned things that will help move forward our countries together.”

Lower figure

Sources said that the Irish delegation explained to the US president that there were about 10,000 undocumented Irish living in the US – a much lower figure than has usually been cited.

It is understood that Mr Trump tasked budget director Mick Mulvaney and homeland security chief Kirstjen Nielsen to work on a solution, with the Government hoping this can be included in immigration legislation expected to come before Congress soon.

“We reached agreement to pursue a bilateral deal and that’s real progress,” said the Government’s envoy to the US, John Deasy TD, who attended the meeting.

Mr Trump expressed his admiration for the “wonderful country” of Ireland at several points during the activities, noting the large Irish community in New York where he grew up.

In his speech at the annual Friends of Ireland lunch on Capitol Hill, Mr Trump spoke about the “long friendship” between the countries, adding that the number of Americans with Irish heritage explains why Ireland has such political clout on Capitol Hill.

He indicated that he may visit Ireland as early as next year.

Mr Varadkar’s St Patrick’s Day visit will continue on Friday, when he visits the vice-president’s residence for breakfast before departing for New York.

Asked about Mike Pence’s decision not to allow the media to attend their scheduled meeting, the Taoiseach said he would have preferred if the cameras had been allowed in to record. “It allows us maybe to have a frank conversation that’s easier to have without the media present,” he added.

The Taoiseach plans to raise the issue of LGBT rights with Mr Pence during his meeting.

Later in the day, Mr Varadkar will travel to New York for a series of engagements.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

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