Written Answers - Emigrant Support Services

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 709 No. 4

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  20.  Deputy Seymour Crawford  Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford   asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs  Information on Micheál Martin  Zoom on Micheál Martin   the progress being made with the political system in Washington DC regarding an amnesty for the many undocumented Irish in the US; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20858/10]

  156.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan  Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan   asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs  Information on Micheál Martin  Zoom on Micheál Martin   the extent of contact in recent times with the US authorities in an effort to resolve the issue of undocumented Irish with particular reference to the need to address the situation progressively; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21276/10]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin): Information on Micheál Martin  Zoom on Micheál Martin  I propose to take Questions Nos. 20 and 156 together.

[864]I am very much aware of the difficulties confronting undocumented Irish citizens in the United States and the distress which both they and their families in the US and Ireland experience arising from their situation. I recognise that the overwhelming majority of the undocumented travelled to the US in search of work in a period of economic downturn in Ireland. I would urge anybody who might be tempted in the current climate to follow in the footsteps of the undocumented to take account of the difficult situation in which they now find themselves.

Finding a solution for our undocumented citizens in the United States continues to be an important priority for this Government. We are also committed to enhancing our bilateral migration arrangements with the US through the establishment of a reciprocal two year renewable visa scheme, known as the E3 visa, and the further development of the recently agreed working holiday programme.

During our St Patrick’s Day visit Washington, the Taoiseach and I took the opportunity to discuss immigration reform and the plight of the undocumented Irish in our meetings with President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and leading members of Congress. As part of his St Patrick’s Day address, President Obama offered an assurance that his own commitment to comprehensive immigration reform remains unwavering.

President Obama has since reiterated this commitment to immigration reform, and has welcomed what he has described as the “strong proposal” for reform presented at the end of April by senior Democratic Senators Harry Reid, Charles Schumer, and Robert Menendez.

The Democratic Senators’ outline legislative proposal draws on the draft framework for action on immigration published in March by Senator Lindsay Graham and Senator Charles Schumer. This bipartisan proposal included provision for a path towards legalisation for the undocumented, including the Irish, provided they first admit to having violated US laws, undertake the repayment of taxes and perform community service.

This outline legislation also specifically mentions an E-3 visa arrangement for Irish citizens. Although the proposal is only the first step in a long process, the inclusion of an Irish E3 scheme at this initial stage is an important achievement for the Government and the Irish community.

While I am encouraged by these developments and also by the efforts which continue to be made on Capitol Hill to resolve this issue, very considerable political challenges remain, particularly in an election year.

The Government will continue to maintain very close contact with the US Administration and Congress, as well as with Irish community advocates, to address this issue in the period ahead. Through the Emigrant Support Programme, we have provided $285,000 to the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, since 2006, to assist with their lobbying efforts. In 2009, we also provided $10,000 to the Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform.

Question No. 21 answered with Question No. 11.

Question No. 22 answered with Question No. 10.

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