WASHINGTON — Ireland’s new ambassador to the United States is throwing her nation’s weight behind calls for American comprehensive immigration reform.
Anne Anderson, who began her term as ambassador in September, argues changes to the immigration system are needed to reflect “the historical and contemporary relationship” between the two nations.
She has the backing of the Irish parliament and head of government, Taoiseach Enda Kenny — and she’s “spent a considerable amount of that time talking to [House Republicans] about” immigration reform, Anderson said in an interview with BuzzFeed.
Indeed, Anderson has been holding regular meetings with Republican lawmakers, and the embassy is working with a coalition of Irish-American cultural, business, and civic organizations to organize the estimated 40 million Americans who trace at least part of their ethnic heritage to Ireland.
And while Anderson acknowledged the path to reform is difficult, she argued bringing a non-Latino face to the debate is helping win over some House Republicans.
“For many of them, they have been surprised. They think of this as a Hispanic issue, which is not surprising given the numbers,” Anderson said. “There is increasingly a deeper understanding of the complexities of this issue, and that it’s not just one community,” Anderson explained.
Anderson’s emphasis on immigration comes as Irish-American business and civic organizations have increasingly become involved in the push for a comprehensive reform to the nation’s immigration rules.
Part of the push comes in response to “the situation of the Irish undocumented here.” While the estimated 50,000 to 75,000 undocumented Irish make up a relatively small percentage of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, “in a country the size of Ireland … that makes quite an impact,” Anderson said.
But the Irish government is also concerned with the relative difficulty its citizens have in obtaining green cards: Between 2000 and 2012, only 15,000 of the total 10 million green cards issued to immigrants went to the Irish.
“The other side of the coin is the extreme difficulty for Irish people to come work here … [which] has fueled the undocumented problem,” Anderson said, adding that “the extent to which the Irish have improved this country … and helped to build this country, that’s just a tiny, tiny, tiny percentage.”
Unlike past emigration waves out of Ireland that were often made by low-skilled workers, many Irish who are leaving come from the nation’s high-tech sector. “They’re the kind of people who can make a contribution. Now they’re going other places,” Anderson warned.