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Adams raises plight of undocumented Irish in USA with Taoiseach

9 December, 2015 - by Gerry Adams

Sinn Féin President and Louth TD Gerry Adams raised the issue of the undocumented Irish in the USA with Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the Dáil. He subsequently expressed his disappointment at the Taoiseach’s response and “the absence of enthusiasm or energy and the lack of a coherent government strategy to secure progress on tackling in the plight of undocumented.”

The Taoiseach said that he “cannot see much happening in this regard in light of the state of political play in Washington at the moment”.

Speaking in the Dáil during Taoiseach’s Questions on Tuesday afternoon the Sinn Féin leader said:

“The major issue for many Irish Americans is the plight of the undocumented. It is estimated that 500,000 people left this state during the past eight years, going not only to the US but also to Australia, Canada, Britain, Europe and Asia. There are tens of thousands of people in the US due to the austerity policies.

While some travelled legally, it is estimated that there are 50,000 illegal or undocumented Irish. They did not go for the craic, as a lifestyle choice or for the experience. They went because they had no long-term employment prospects, meaningful work or proper terms and conditions here. Many of them have families in the US, pay tax and contribute positively to US society. However, when it comes to a bereavement, christening or wedding, they cannot return home. While they contribute significantly to the US economy and are generally recognised as model citizens, they are the Skype generation.

President Obama's executive order last November presents an opportunity for some of them to come out of the shadows and regularise and legalise their presence. It also opens up frustrations given that, for some of them, the ability to acquire a social security card, work legally and get a drivers' licence conflicts with their ability to return home. If they return, they might not get back to the US. They are caught idir eatarthu, between two worlds.

Ciarán Staunton, is known to many in the Oireachtas for his hard work on behalf of the undocumented. Mr. Staunton is arguing that the introduction of a waiver policy that would remove the obstacle of the three-year and ten-year bar for undocumented Irish citizens in the US would be an important step forward.

A similar waiver scheme is operated by the US mission in Mexico. I recently spoke to Mr. Staunton in New York. He believes a waiver scheme, if introduced, would benefit 25% of undocumented Irish citizens. If the United States Embassy in Dublin waived the three-year and ten-year bars, people could go through sponsorship or investment and re-enter the US legally with a regularised status.”

The Taoiseach’s response gave little optimism for progress on this issue and indicated a government position which lacks enthusiasm or energy or a coherent strategy.

The Taoiseach warned that Irish citizens who enter or stay in the US illegally “will create real problems for themselves for years to come if they are found to be working illegally and without documentation…”

He added: “To be honest with Deputy Adams, I cannot see much happening in this regard in light of the state of political play in Washington at the moment. We have all heard of the opportunities that exist to tag sections onto legislation going through the Senate or the House of Representatives. Given the tensions that exist between both houses at the moment, I cannot see that this will move on.”

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