Bill offers new hope to millions of illegals in US
The bill, passed by the Senate yesterday, amounts to the most sweeping changes in decades to US immigration laws and is a major victory for undocumented immigrants.
The Irish lobby also won a victory by securing a reduction in a proposed $500 fee to $100 for the J1 non-immigration summer work visa used by thousands of Irish students each year.
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said last night he was happy that the provisions in the bill "will allow the continuation of the J1 programme."
Welcoming the Senate action, he said: "This is a very positive development that takes us another step closer towards addressing the problems faced by undocumented Irish emigrants in the US and allowing them to emerge from the shadows."
In a reference to the J1 visa, he added: "I am particularly pleased that the bill includes provisions that will allow for continuation of the summer J1 visa programme that has meant so much to successive generations of young Irish people."
There were dramatic scenes in the Senate as the vote neared. Spectators in galleries that overlook the Senate floor watched expectantly as senators voted one by one from their desks. Some onlookers erupted in chants of "Yes, we can" after Vice President Joe Biden announced the vote result.
The bipartisan vote was 68 to 32 on a measure that sits atop President Barack Obama's second-term domestic agenda.
After three weeks of debate, there was no doubt about the outcome. Fourteen Republicans joined all 52 Democrats and two independents to support the bill.
In the final hours of debate, members the group that drafted the measure, frequently spoke in personal terms while extolling the bill's virtues, rebutting its critics - and appealing for passage the bill.
In the Senate, at least, the developments marked an end to years of gridlock on immigration.
The shift began taking shape quickly after the 2012 presidential election, when Republican leaders concluded the party must show a more welcoming face to Hispanic voters who had given Obama more than 70pc of their votes. This was the new demographic that changed the political landscape and made it in everyone's interest to pass the bill.
The bill offers a 13-year path to citizenship to as many as 11 million illegal immigrants, over 55,000 of whom are Irish.
The Republican leader of the House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner, has already said he expects the House to vote on its own version of the immigration bill before the end of August. But non-one expects this to be an easy battle, least of all the Irish. But for the moment they have much to celebrate.
The bill promises a military-style effort to secure the long-porous border with Mexico.
The bill's opponents were unrelenting, if outnumbered.
"We will admit dramatically more people than we ever have in our country's history at a time when unemployment is high and the Congressional Budget Office has told us that average wages will go down for 12 years, that gross national product per capita will decline for 25-plus years, that unemployment will go up," said Senator Jeff Sessions, a Republican.
"The amnesty will occur, but the enforcement is not going to occur, and the policies for future immigration are not serving the national interest."