N. Ireland Politics

Cold comfort for Irish illegals in the US

The Capitol building after a 14 March 2017 snowstorm Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Washington's Capitol Hill has remained in the icy grip of winter this week

The snow is falling outside the Dubliner pub in the centre of Washington DC, not far from the Capitol Building with its huge dome.

Inside in the warmth, Brian Gaffney, a guitar-playing singer from County Kerry entertains with a selection of Irish ballads.

It is winter in America - a time for collars up and heads down.

That is especially the case if you are one of the estimated 11 million illegal or undocumented immigrants, up to 50,000 of whom are Irish.

Image caption Brian Gaffney says Irish illegal immigrants in the US feel a sense of uncertainty over their futures

Brian Gaffney, was himself once undocumented, so he knows what the current 'illegals' are going through.

"Everybody is very nervous now," he said.

"I know people in this situation and my heart goes out to them.

"Things had been very lax for years, when nobody was chasing anybody, but now all of a sudden there's the uncertainty and the decisions since the new Trump administration came in."

Image caption Washington is one of the key cities in the US

Several Irish heads-of-government have raised with several American presidents the plight of the undocumented immigrants, but never with any resolution.

Niall Stanage, a Northern Irish-born journalist, does not see that changing any time soon.

"I have much doubt that the Irish will get special privileges," he says.

"If that were the case there would be an understandable outcry from the governments of Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador - nations that have many more illegal immigrants here.

"And I've never been persuaded what the argument for a special Irish deal is."

Image caption Suzanne Lynch says Irish immigration is not high on the agenda for the Trump administration

With a new and very different president in the White House "putting America first", there is also a growing sense that, in spite what might be said publicly, the plight of the undocumented is not as important a matter for the Irish as it once was.

"The issue of Irish immigration is still there but I think this Trump administration faces other issues, particularly tax, investment.

"Its relationship with the EU is going to be crucial for Ireland's relationship with America going forward," says Suzanne Lynch, the Washington correspondent for the Irish Times.

This week, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has been told by several senior congressmen and senators that the Trump administration may not get around to dealing with immigration for at least a year because of other priorities, including healthcare and taxation.

Image caption The issue of illegal Irish immigration in the US can be resolved, Congressman Joseph Crowley believes

Congressman Joseph Crowley represents New York and has family connections with Armagh, Cavan and Louth.

He is the Democrat caucus chairman, and therefore an important man, and he can see light at the end of the tunnel for the 'illegals'.

"I do ultimately see this being resolved in a comprehensive way, not in a piecemeal way," he said.

"Not by any one group pitted against another - that's not the way we ought to approach it.

"We should do this in a holistic way and take care if all those who are facing an uncertain future in an undocumented state."

All of which means it will still be some time before the Irish or other illegal immigrants can emerge from the shadows into the sunlight of legality and the warmth of the American nations and its institutions.

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