Congress poised for battle on migration as US settles shutdown

Irish Government will renew push for US immigration reform ahead of St Patrick’s Day

US senate minority leader Chuck Schumer says that president Donald Trump "sat on the sidelines" as he announces an agreement to end a three-day shutdown of the US government. Video: Reuters


The US Congress is poised for a contentious battle on immigration in the coming weeks, as the Senate reached a deal to end the government shutdown yesterday in exchange for a promised agreement on immigration.

Congress voted on Monday to end the three-day closure of federal agencies by approving the latest short-term bill to fund the government. Trump signed the bill late on Monday.

Democrats agreed to back the short-term funding measure after they were given commitments that an immigration package would be agreed by February 8th.

The fresh focus on immigration in Washington comes as the Irish Government embarks on a renewed push for immigration reform in the US ahead of the St Patrick’s Day visit by the Taoiseach.

The Government’s special envoy to the US John Deasy. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times
The Government’s special envoy to the US John Deasy. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

John Deasy, appointed by Leo Varadkar last year as special US envoy, is due in Washington this week where he is to meet senior members of Congress and the White House.

Irish in America: Share your immigration story

Though the main focus of any new US immigration Bill will be on “Dreamers” – the 800,000 or so undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children – negotiations will include discussions on president Donald Trump’s promised border wall and the Diversity visa lottery programme.

Terrorist attack

The US president announced his intention to abolish the visa lottery scheme last year after it emerged that the suspect in the Lower Manhattan terrorist attack on October 31st had come to the US under the Diversity visa lottery.

While relatively few Irish people receive visas through the annual lottery system – around 150 a year are granted visas under the scheme – it is one of the few options open to Irish people to apply to live in the US without an employment sponsor.

“The expectation that the lottery programme will be curtailed is yet another example of the challenges for Irish people wanting to live and work in the United States, ” said Ciaran Staunton of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform.

The prospect of a new immigration Bill has fuelled hopes that some form of immigration deal could be secured for Ireland and incorporated into any new legislation.

The Government has long argued that Ireland’s historic links with the US are not reflected in current US immigration policy. As well as making representations for the thousands of undocumented Irish living in the US, Irish officials in Washington have endeavoured to secure new avenues for Irish people who want to live and work in the US.

Renewable work visas

An immigration Bill in 2013 that passed the Senate but failed to garner enough support in the House of Representatives included a proposal for 10,500 “E3” visas for Irish citizens. Based on a visa system offered to Australians, it would have given Irish people access to two-year renewable work visas. A similar proposal in 2015 suggested that E3 visas not taken up by Australians could be allocated to Irish citizens.

Senator Billy Lawless, the Chicago-based businessman who was appointed as Senator with responsibility for the diaspora in 2016, says that he is continuing to pursue all options to improve access for Irish people who want to move to the US. “Over the last decade in particular we have had very few Irish people moving to the United States, with most choosing to go to Australia, New Zealand and Canada instead. We will continue to try and seek any opportunities to improve visa options for people who want to live and work in the United States.”

Securing agreement on a new immigration package in Congress next week is by no means certain.