For the first time ever, all the Irish immigrant advice centers from around the U.S. will be represented at the meeting to be held at the Irish Consulate.
As such, the meeting amounts to something of a summit at a time when concern over the plight of the undocumented Irish has reached hitherto unseen heights on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Manhattan discussion is being hosted by visiting Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern who is expected to tell the immigrant leaders that the Irish government views the current situation affecting the undocumented as a matter of the highest priority.
Ahern, attending his first such immigration meeting as minister for foreign affairs, will announce a significant increase in the Irish government’s financial assistance to 13 immigration centers spanning the country.
This year’s allocation, which will cover the upcoming 2006 fiscal year, will top $900,000, a 40 percent increase over the sum handed over a year ago by Ahern’s predecessor, Brian Cowen.
But beyond the financial assistance, the Irish government is believed to be stepping up its behind-the-scenes efforts on behalf of an undocumented Irish population that, while impossible to precisely quantify, is widely viewed as numbering at least many thousands, if not tens of thousands, of individuals across the 50 states.
This expanding effort has been prompted in large part by a rising volume of emotional exchanges between families in Ireland and undocumented relatives in the U.S. unable to return for family events – including funerals of parents – for fear that they will not be able to get back to their lives and homes in America as a result of enhanced border security measures.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Dermot Ahern together raised the Irish government’s concerns over the situation facing the undocumented Irish during discussions with President George W. Bush at the White House last St. Patrick’s Day.
And visiting groups of Irish parliamentarians, from all parties, have been highlighting the issue with their counterparts in Congress in the intervening months.
Dermot Ahern’s latest visit, however, comes at a time when recent hopes for a meaningful congressional debate on immigration reform have been dealt a blow.
The two main reform bills on Capitol Hill, Kennedy/McCain and Cornyn/Kyl, are before a Senate Judiciary Committee that is this week engrossed in Supreme Court nomination hearings.
No immigration hearing before the committee or its immigration offshoot is yet listed for September on the Senate website.
And any substantial debate on reform in the weeks or months ahead will have to first escape not just the continuing gravitational pull of 9/11 and the war on terrorism, but also now the Hurricane Katrina disaster and the political fallout from it.
These potentially overwhelming factors that will not be lost on Minister Ahern or his government as yet another winter of discontent for a lost Irish immigrant population nudges over the horizon.