15 March 2007
Ahern: US bill for illegal Irish will be difficult
By Paul O’Brien, Political Reporter, New York
TAOISEACH Bertie Ahern has conceded there will be difficulty getting a bill through the US congress that would look favourably upon the illegal Irish in the US.
A bipartisan bill proposed by Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy and Republican senator and 2008 presidential candidate John McCain ran into trouble last year, with many Republicans, in particular, opposed to any legislation that would grant citizenship to illegal aliens.
It has now emerged the two men have been unable to agree a draft of the bill, which would have offered undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship once certain conditions were met.
Yesterday, Mr Ahern met in New York with members of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, a group representing the illegal Irish. Speaking following the meeting, Mr Ahern said he would be pressing the issue with senior members of congress, including Senators Kennedy and Hillary Clinton, whom he meets today in Washington, DC.
Mr Ahern is also scheduled to raise the matter with US President George W Bush when the traditional St Patrick’s Day ceremony takes place at the White House.
“Obviously, the big issue is to try to get the legislation passed this year. It’s hugely important to a lot of Irish people, and we’re trying to see what we can do on Capitol Hill,” he said.
“There are some delays in the legislation. There are a number of reasons for that, and we’ll have to see if we can get all sides together. There’s confidence that the bill will be passed in the Senate, but around the House there are more difficulties. So I’ll use the opportunity tomorrow and Friday to try and push that on.”
Asked whether he was optimistic, he stated: “From the various discussions over the last period, we do believe we’ll get a bill passed in the Senate. There are difficulties in the House. It needs to be bipartisan.”
Meanwhile, Mr Ahern paid tribute to members of the Irish-American community who lost their lives on September 11.
Mr Ahern yesterday laid a wreath at the memorial near Ground Zero to the 343 members of the fire department who died trying to rescue those trapped in the Twin Towers.
He also visited the Twin Towers tribute centre together with New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg. Mr Ahern said the victims of 9/11 came from across the world.
“It was a global tragedy,” he said. “The terrible losses suffered by the emergency services that day included many Irish Americans.
“We lost so many of our Irish family that day, from the fire and police departments, and people working in the towers. Ireland is proud of their heroism.”
Mr Bloomberg paid tribute both to the fact that Mr Ahern was one of the first foreign premiers to visit New York in the wake of the attacks, and to the national day of commemoration which Ireland held in honour of those who had died.
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