Fri Mar 16, 2007 1:44PM EDT
By Darren Ennis
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern will urge President Bush on Saturday to convince lawmakers to pass laws by 2008 to secure the future of millions of illegal immigrants.
Ahern will lobby Bush to push a proposed U.S. Immigration Reform Bill through the Senate and Congress before the end of the year during their meeting in Washington on Saturday, part of the traditional St. Patrick's Day ceremony at the White House.
There are thousands of Irish among foreign nationals known as "the undocumented" -- people, mainly of Latin America, who have lived, worked and paid taxes in the United States but have no rights.
Bush discussed the draft bill on his tour of Latin America earlier this week. Mexican President
Felipe Calderon asked Bush to convince Congress to pass a bill that would "acknowledge the rights" of millions of illegal immigrants.
The number of illegal Irish immigrants is estimated at more than 100,000, but the final figure remains unknown as many are afraid to come forward for fear of being extradited.
Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern said indications were the proposed legislation could be in place for the start of 2008.
The bipartisan bill, proposed by Democrat Ted Kennedy and Republican John McCain -- a 2008 presidential candidate -- ran into trouble last year, with many Republicans opposed to any legislation granting any form of citizenship to illegal aliens.
"It is expected, from our discussions, that the Senate will pass the bill by the middle of the year and then by the end of the year, it will get through Congress," Ahern said.
Since the September 11 attacks, Washington has tightened its grip on people who enter U.S. territory illegally. Previously, many undocumented citizens regularly went home to visit their families, secure in the knowledge that they could return.
Ahern said the Irish government was not looking for "full U.S. citizenship overnight" for immigrants, but asked for "flexibility and common sense" over travel and work permits.
"Hopefully by the time the next St. Patrick's Day comes around, many of those will be free to celebrate in Ireland and return to the U.S. without any problems," Ahern said.