Tánaiste welcomes US immigration reform bill

Friday 28 June 2013 23.58
Eamon Gilmore said the bill was a step closer towards addressing undocumented Irish
Eamon Gilmore said the bill was a step closer towards addressing undocumented Irish

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Eamon Gilmore has welcomed the US Senate's approval of a new immigration reform bill.

The bill includes a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US.

The Tánaiste said the bill was another step closer towards addressing the problems faced by the undocumented Irish in the US.

He said he was pleased the bill includes provisions that will allow for the continuation of the J1 Visa programme.

However, the bill's prospects are highly uncertain in the Republican-led House of Representatives, where conservatives generally oppose citizenship for immigrants living in the country unlawfully.

Many also prefer a step-by-step approach rather than a comprehensive bill such as the legislation the Senate passed on a bipartisan vote of 68-32.

Following the Senate vote, President Barack Obama, who has made an immigration overhaul a top second-term priority, called on the House to act.

Speaking from Senegal, he urged "everyone who cares about this issue to keep a watchful eye".

The President said: "Now is the time when opponents will try their hardest to pull this bipartisan effort apart so they can stop common-sense reform from becoming a reality. We cannot let that happen."

Members of the Senate's so-called Gang of Eight, the bipartisan group of senators who drafted the bill and hoped a resounding vote total would pressure the House, echoed the plea.

"To our friends in the House, we ask for your consideration and we stand ready to sit down and negotiate with you," Republican Senator John McCain said.

"You may have different views on different aspects of this issue, but all of us share the same goal, and that is to take 11 million people out of the shadows, secure our borders and make sure that this is the nation of opportunity and freedom."

At a news conference, Republican House Speaker John Boehner made clear the House would not simply take up the Senate bill as some Democrats and outside advocates are calling for, but would chart its own legislation with a focus on border security.

How exactly Mr Boehner will proceed remained unclear, but the speaker has called a special meeting of his majority Republicans for 10 July to go over options.

"The House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes. We're going to do our own bill," he said.

The bill passed by the Senate devotes $46 billion to border security improvements, including calling for a doubling of the border patrol stationed on the US-Mexico border and the completion of 1,100km of fencing - changes added at the last minute to attract Republican support.

No one would be able to get a permanent resident green card until those border enhancements and others were in place.

The bill also makes it mandatory for employers to check their workers' legal status, sets up new visa programmes to allow workers into the country and establishes new tracking systems at seaports and airports to keep better tabs on people entering and leaving the country.

At its contentious core, though, is the 13-year path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living in the US illegally.

Without such a provision, senators say the legislation could not pass the Senate. With it, its prospects are difficult in the House.

Mr Boehner declined to say whether there were circumstances under which he could support a pathway to citizenship, but he made clear that securing the border was a priority.