The Irish Prime Minister Is Here. And He Won't Stop Talking About U.S. Immigration Reform.
Enda Kenny will meet with President Obama Tuesday to celebrate St. Patrick's Day and to lobby for undocumented Irish immigrants in the United States.
After an immigration-reform bill met its end in the last Congress, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said he'd work at the "highest political levels" to encourage a solution for the tens of thousands of undocumented Irish living in the United States.
This past November, when President Obama moved to protect 5 million undocumented immigrants in the United States from deportation, Kenny was quick to offer his support, sending a letter to the White House with his "warm appreciation" for the executive action.
And during his visit to the White House Tuesday to celebrate St. Patrick's Day—as each Irish prime minister, or taoiseach, has done for the last 20 or so years—Kenny is expected to again push Obama for more—particularly for Irish immigrants living in the United States.
Speaking at Atlanta's St. Patrick's Day parade on Saturday, Kenny said he and his government "will continue to lobby intensively for reform, including a path to citizenship for our undocumented Irish and a legal means for more Irish people to be able to come here to work and contribute to American society."
But for all his campaigning in the United States, some advocates back home say Kenny hasn't done the same for the 25,000 undocumented immigrants living in Ireland.
"The taoiseach has shown a deep understanding for the plight of the undocumented Irish—separated from their families, living in the shadows, unable to travel home even for funerals," said Helen Lowry of the Migrant Rights Center Ireland in a statement ahead of Kenny's U.S. visit. "It's time for him to acknowledge the people here in Ireland in exactly the same situation."
On Sunday, Lowry's organization staged a rally in Dublin to push Kenny toward reforms at home while also supporting immigrants in America. Demonstrators hung a large green banner by the meeting site that read: "Happy St. Patrick's Day to the undocumented in the U.S.A. from the undocumented in Ireland."
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 33.3 million people living in the United States who claim to have Irish descent—more than seven times the current population of Ireland—including Obama himself. And there are tens of thousands of undocumented Irish immigrants living in America.
"We've got 50,000 here in America, undocumented," Kenny said last year at a St. Patrick's Day breakfast hosted by Vice President Joe Biden at the Naval Observatory, criticizing the slow-going reform efforts. "And what we want is a process of legalization, where they pay their taxes, pay their way, raise their families, travel home, and travel back."
Irish immigration activists have long called for their prime minister to push through domestic immigration reform. After Kenny's 2013 visit to the White House, the Immigrant Council of Ireland asked him to follow Obama's attempts. Denise Charlton, the council's chief executive, said in a statement that Kenny and other Irish officials who have backed Obama's efforts "should be as enthusiastic in reviewing our own immigration laws to ensure they are fit for purpose to meet the needs of a modern, open economy."
Irish prime ministers have visited the White House annually on St. Patrick's Day since the Clinton years, participating in a traditional shamrock ceremony. During the ceremony—which has its roots in a visit to Washington from the Irish ambassador to the United States in 1952—the Irish prime minister gifts the American president a Waterford crystal bowl full of shamrock, the green-leaved symbol of Ireland.
Often, meetings between each president and prime minister have been love fests, with speeches detailing the "warmth, the affection" between the two countries. On Obama's first St. Patrick's Day in office, Prime Minister Brian Cowen lavished praise on the American president on his election and offered a Gaelic twist to Obama's "Yes, we can" campaign message: "Is féidir linn," or "Yes, you can."
Obama's executive actions on immigration are currently in "legal limbo" as 26 states have sued the administration for exceeding presidential authority, and the fight could go on for months.