I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 and 22 together.
This is an issue to which I accord very high priority. I am conscious of the difficulties experienced by Irish citizens who are undocumented in the United States and I have met and spoken with many of them on my working visits there and also with the various groups who lobby on their behalf. I have maintained contact, directly and through our embassy in Washington, with many key players in Congress who are influential in steering the process of US immigration reform. Over the last four months, the embassy and I have had direct contact with some 70 Members of the House of Representatives and their staff, including Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, Chair of the House Budgetary Committee and former Vice-Presidential nominee; Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee and several other leading Republican members of that Committee, including Immigration Sub-Committee Chairman, Trey Gowdy; Minority House Leader, Nancy Pelosi; Chair of the Congressional Friends of Ireland, Pete King; House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and their staffs. I have also maintained contact with key figures in the US Administration and with Irish-American community representatives. I have reiterated throughout all of these contacts the Government’s interest in all aspects of immigration reform and, in particular, our interest in seeing an overall agreement reached which provides relief for currently undocumented Irish migrants and a facility for future flows of legal migration between Ireland and the US.
In this context, we very much welcomed the US Senate’s approval of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Bill by a 68 to 32 margin on 27 June last year. The comprehensive draft legislation, which was prepared over several months by a bipartisan group of eight US Senators, provides for extensive reform of the US immigration system. It includes provisions that would legalise the status of undocumented Irish people and provide a path to permanent residency. It also provides for future flows of legal migration between Ireland and the US via the proposed E-3 visa.
The focus has since shifted to the House of Representatives for its consideration of the issues and a key factor here remains convincing the Republican House majority of the importance of making progress. It remains to be seen whether a consolidated Bill can be agreed between the Senate and the House of Representatives. It is generally accepted that securing overall agreement will be a complex and challenging process, also in light of other issues on the Congressional agenda which may be unrelated but can impact negatively on efforts to secure the necessary bipartisan agreement.
The next window of opportunity for any movement on immigration reform is expected to arise during the first months of this year but the exact shape and form of such movement remains to be seen. The most recent development has been the announcement last week by Speaker Boehner that he is preparing to release a set of “principles” and “standards” to guide the House Republican side’s consideration of immigration reform. These are expected to become available in the coming weeks.
I am determined to continue to deploy all necessary resources at political, diplomatic and Irish community level to make progress on this vital issue. In support of this ongoing effort, a delegation of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade visited Washington DC in October last for a programme arranged by our Embassy during which they met with key members of Congress and with Irish-American community representatives. More recently, I wrote to US House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner on 12 December last, reiterating our position and underlining our continuing strong interest in the prospect of reform of the US immigration system. I expressed the hope that the House will engage further on these issues in early 2014 leading to a positive legislative outcome.
The Government will continue to raise this issue with high-level political contacts in the period ahead, particularly during the St. Patrick’s Day period in Washington DC. In addition, the Embassy in Washington continues our intensive follow-up work with all of our contacts on Capitol Hill and particularly with the Republican House leadership. It also continues to co-ordinate our lobbying efforts with our Irish-American community representatives. I acknowledge the critically important role being played by these community organisations, including the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform and the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform.