But fears are being voiced this week that those very same undocumented will be left out of a possible bilateral visa deal between the U.S. and Ireland.
The idea of a bilateral has been stirring for the past couple of years but has risen to greater prominence since the collapse earlier this year of a comprehensive immigration reform effort in the Congress.
Ahern and other Irish government members, including foreign minister Dermot Ahern, have spoken of the possibility of a deal that would facilitate easier movement of Irish citizens into the U.S. economy and the same for American wishing to live in Ireland.
Minister Ahern has stated that Ireland has the legal leeway to negotiate a bilateral with the U.S. within the parameters of European Union immigration rules.
Taoiseach Ahern, speaking on Irish radio, spoke of the possibility of a bilateral but in the same breath appeared to suggest that it would not encompass the undocumented Irish already in the U.S.
“There’s a chance of us doing a direct arrangement with America, but that doesn’t cover those people who had difficulties in the past. We can do a bilateral arrangement that will help new people, but it doesn’t deal with the undocumented,’ Ahern told the RTE show “Morning Ireland.”
Ahern’s words prompted immediate criticism from the Ireland-based lobby group, Families and Friends of the Irish Undocumented.
“The friends and families of the Irish undocumented are concerned at the news that the Irish government is going to leave our families and friends out of any visa arrangement,” said spokeswoman Kate Hickey.
“The Irish government can’t just forget about them and think no-one will notice or care.
“If the taoiseach goes to Washington and addresses the United States Congress without first having solved the plight of the Irish undocumented there will be thousands of us in the Capitol waiting to see him,” she said.
“Our friends and families have waited too long and worked too hard to let this effort fail.”
Hickey’s group recently picked Leinster House in Dublin during a D_il debate on the undocumented. That debate led to a joint motion agreed to by all parties, in support of seeking relief for the tends of thousands of Irish in the U.S. daily living in the shadows of immigration illegality.