Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore lands in Washington DC today to meet members of the US congress to lobby for their support for new immigration legislation.
The bill, which would lead to the most sweeping changes to the US immigration system in a generation, would put 11 million illegal immigrants, including an estimated 50,000 “undocumented” Irish, on the path to citizenship over 13 years and create 10,500 ‘E3’ work visas for new Irish immigrants.
Drafted by a cross-party group of eight senators, the legislation has already passed the Democrat-led Senate but faces a greater challenge being passed by the Republican-controlled House.
Mr Gilmore is scheduled to meet four Republican members of the House today, including last year's Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan, the party's majority whip in the chamber Kevin McCarthy and Jim Sensenbrenner, a member of the influential House judiciary committee.
In the afternoon, the Tánaiste will meet the House minority leader, Democratic congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, and later Senators Dick Durbin, a Democrat, and John McCain, a Republican who were members of the so-called Gang of Eight who drafted the bipartisan immigration legislation. Mike Sommers, chief of staff to the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, a Republican, is listed on Mr Gilmore's schedule.
Mr Gilmore will also meet Senator Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Senate judiciary committee and a strong supporter of Irish-American issues. Meetings with other members of the Senate and the House are also being finalised, according to the Tánaiste's official schedule.
The Tánaiste arrives in Washington as the immigration debate intensifies on the House side of the Capitol amid mounting pressure from the White House to push through the legislation.
Swaying as many of the 234 Republicans representatives in the House is crucial to the passage of the legislation, though securing majority support in the Republican-controlled chamber is seen as more challenging than in the Senate given how GOP members want the legislation tied to tighter controls on border security.
Paul Ryan, a key figure within the party since being picked as Mitt Romney’s running mate, pressed House Republicans to support changes to immigration law at a private meeting on Capitol Hill yesterday, linking stronger border controls and citizenship for illegal workers to economic growth.
President Obama has increased political pressure on House Republicans, strategising with Democratic members of the Congressional Hispanic Congress yesterday on winning over support for the bill, while the White House released a report pointing out that “common sense immigration reform” would have major economic benefits.
The president has made immigration reform one of his second-term legislative targets. Republicans recognise, many reluctantly, that changes to immigrant laws are essential if the party is to regain the White House given how a bigger Hispanic vote helped re-elect Mr Obama for a second term.
"Most members of both parties want immigration reform," said Ciaran Staunton, co-founder of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform who has making political representations on Capitol Hill to generate support for the new bill.
"Republicans want it more than Democrats but they won't tell you that. The Republican leadership wants it because they want to remove it as an issue and they know they are never going to get the White House back until they get Hispanic support up to where they had with it George W Bush and that is a big climb."
While the focus of the Tánaiste’s meetings today will be on immigration reform, tomorrow will centre on economic issues as Mr Gilmore meets US companies at a business breakfast.
He will also speak at the European Institute on Ireland's recent presidency of the European Union and the proposed EU-US free trade agreement, on which negotiations began in Washington on Monday.
Mr Gilmore will also meet with Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House's domestic policy council, and the IMF's first deputy managing director David Lipton tomorrow.