Regardless of whether the number of Irish living illegally in the United States is 50,000, as campaigners for the "undocumented" have argued for years, or closer to 10,000, as new Government envoy John Deasy estimated this week, resolving their situation is what matters. The 50,000 figure has been thrown about for years and was used by Enda Kenny during official visits to the US as taoiseach. That Deasy should seek an accurate number that turns out to be much lower, sourced from a demographer and the respected Pew Research Centre, should not be interpreted as meaning that the plight of the unauthorised Irish be taken any less seriously. The Waterford TD has said as much.
Nobody knows the exact number and the figure may be somewhat moot. It certainly runs to thousands, and even though many of those affected knew the laws they were breaking by overstaying their visa waiver, they still deserve representation by their Government, particularly when US president Donald Trump has taken a more hardline stance on immigration.
The prospect of comprehensive immigration reform appears remote given how the Trump administration is steered by an anti-immigrant agenda and fervent nationalists. Still, there may be some opening for a new legal Irish immigration route. Trump is said to have shown enthusiasm for some deal for the Irish when he met Kenny in the Oval Office during his annual St Patrick's Day visit only for Steve Bannon, Trump's chief strategist, to pour cold water on the idea.
Negotiating with a man who prides himself on his deal-making, there could be an opportunity for Irish officials to broker a reciprocal arrangement on new E3 working visas for graduates. The idea of an Irish E3 has been around for several years and would be a much easier way to secure legal status than the green card route. It would be a tough climb and might not help many of the undocumented Irish, but it would be a good start. Deasy’s Republican connections on Capitol Hill, where he once worked, leave him well placed to make a fresh, opening bid.