Ireland Leader: U.S. Needs Immigration Fix

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By Andy Metzger and Colin A. Young

BOSTON — Before meeting with President Donald Trump in Washington later this week, the head of Ireland’s government visited Boston City Hall, which Mayor Marty Walsh has said could become a citadel for Boston’s undocumented immigrants depending on federal policies.

“We need some clarity for all immigrants, all undocumented immigrants,” Walsh said at a press conference with Taoiseach Enda Kenny. He said, “I wish him all the luck when he goes down to Washington.”

In broad terms, Walsh and Kenny are of one mind, advocating for Congress to come up with a solution for the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.

“For those who are in this country, who have made their decision to live in America, to work for America, to raise their families in America, we need an opportunity for a path to legitimization here,” said Kenny. “It’s not just about the Irish. It’s also about our position as a member of the European Union.”

Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Gov. Charlie Baker walked the red carpet through Doric Hall on their way to Baker’s office Monday morning. Kenny and Walsh held a joint press conference at City Hall earlier Monday. Baker and Kenny held 45-minute private meeting in the governor’s office. [Photo: Sam Doran/SHNS]


Kenny said he and the mayor are in agreement on the issue, praised the mayor’s “fluent” grasp of the Irish language, and said Walsh, whose parents emigrated from Ireland, is a “living example” of the island nation’s contribution to the United States.

Walsh said he disagrees with Trump’s revised executive order on international travel, which dropped Iraq from the list of six Muslim-majority nations that would face new travel restrictions. Trump’s intention to crack down on illegal immigration earlier this year prompted Walsh to announce he would throw open the doors of City Hall for people to live there if needed.

“The fears in the city still exist. The painting of immigrants as criminals, the painting of Muslims as terrorists is still out there, and it has not softened at all,” Walsh said Monday, when asked about the new executive order.

Irish Americans may in future years have more of an opportunity to contribute to the government in Ireland. During his East Coast U.S. tour, at a stop in Philadelphia on Sunday, Kenny announced an upcoming referendum on whether to allow Irish citizens living outside the country to vote in presidential elections.

Kenny plans to visit the White House and meet with House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursdaybefore heading to New York City for Friday’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, according to a copy of his travel plans obtained by the News Service.

On Monday afternoon, Kenny plans to tour the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate and then attend a forum at the John F. Kennedy Library marking the centennial year of the late former president’s birth. On Tuesday morning, Kenny is scheduled to visit the Boston College Club for an event related to the Boston College-Ireland Business Council, according to the itinerary.

According to the school, the Boston College-Ireland Business Council was established to “enhance and deepen transatlantic business opportunities and development between the Boston College, Boston, and Ireland business communities.”

One reporter asked Walsh whether he would push for a “special status” for undocumented Irish immigrants.

“I’m a proud son of Irish immigrants, but I would not be supportive of rules and regulations that just benefit people that are undocumented Irish. We need a comprehensive piece of legislation,” Walsh responded.

Kenny also said that with the United Kingdom’s vote to depart the European Union, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would not revert to the “hard border” of yesteryear.

“We will not have a return to a hard border,” Kenny said.

After his visit at City Hall, Kenny took the short ride up Beacon Hill to the State House, where he was greeted by Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. A drum and pipe corps of Massachusetts correctional officers played as Kenny and Irish Ambassador to the United States Anne Anderson climbed the State House front steps.

With both the Irish and American flags flying on the State House lawn, the four stood on the steps as a Cambridge police officer sang the Irish national anthem and then as a State Police trooper sang the American anthem.

Baker, Polito, Kenny and Anderson then walked upstairs to the governor’s office for a closed-door meeting and gift exchange. Though Kenny was greeted at the State House front steps, he did not use the building’s front door, which is reserved for visiting heads of state. Kenny is Ireland’s head of government, but not its head of state.

Kenny’s meeting in Baker’s office lasted about 45 minutes and he posed for photos in the executive office lobby before departing the State House just after 11:30 a.m.

In October, Baker and his wife Lauren visited Ireland for a weeklong personal vacation. Upon returning, the governor called Ireland “a beautiful country filled with wonderful people.”

Baker last week proclaimed March 2017 “Irish Heritage Month” in Massachusetts, noting the state’s “unique distinction” of being the most Irish-American state in the nation.

In the Bay State, more than 21 percent of residents claim to be of Irish heritage, according to a 2015 Pew Research report. Four other New England states — New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont and Rhode Island — round out the top five most Irish-American states, according to Pew.

Though 33.3 million Americans, or about 10 percent, identified themselves as being of Irish ancestry in 2013 — making it the second-largest ancestry group in the U.S. behind German — the green in America has been fading for decades.

In 1990, 38.6 million Americans or 15.5 percent of the population claimed Irish ancestry, and another 5.6 million or 2.3 percent identified as Scotch-Irish, according to Pew.

And that trend, Pew said, is unlikely to reverse. Not only is the American population that claims Irish heritage aging, but the flow of Irish immigrants to this country is now just a trickle compared to a century or more ago.

During fiscal year 2015, just 1,607 Irish-born people obtained legal permanent residency in the U.S, according to Department of Homeland Security statistics.