Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny expressed frustration at the slow pace of immigration reform in the United States at a breakfast hosted by Vice President Joe Biden to honor him and mark St. Patrick's Day.
In brief remarks before the breakfast at the Naval Observatory, Kenny urged lawmakers from both parties to work towards reforming the nation’s immigration laws.
“It is the frustration of people who look at elected representatives who say, ‘why can’t you do these things?’ ” he said. “We’ve got 50,000 here in America, undocumented. And what we want is a process of legalization, where they pay their taxes, pay their way, raise their families, travel home and travel back.”
Kenny said that Irish immigrants “suffered disproportionately” under current immigration laws and offered his support for reform.
“I know that people who are currently serving on the Hill from both sides want to arrive at a position,” he told Biden. “I wish you every luck in that, and we will support any measure that is taken, Mr. Vice President, to see that happens.”
Biden also thanked Kenny for “making the case for immigration reform” and said he told world leaders that immigration to the U.S. was a source of the country’s strength.
President Obama has made immigration reform a priority, but a Senate-passed bipartisan bill has not been taken up in the House. The Senate bill offers a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country as well as expanding some visa programs and toughening border security.
But immigration reform faces a tougher road in the House, where conservative lawmakers oppose efforts for a pathway to citizenship, deriding such measures as “amnesty.” Republican leaders say they will address the issue piecemeal and focus on border security first.
Earlier this year, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, pulled the plug on immigration reform in this midterm year, saying there was little support for acting because GOP lawmakers did not trust Obama to enforce laws on the books.
The Irish prime minister makes an annual visit to Washington to mark St. Patrick’s Day, which this year falls on Monday.
Biden closed his remarks with words from an “old Irish toast.”
“May the hinges of our friendship never grow rusty,” he said.