- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 18, 2006

When the Irish prime minister urged President Bush yesterday to grant amnesty to illegal Irish aliens in the United States, he was just the latest in a line of foreign leaders to beg the president to relax immigration rules.

Before handing over a bowl of shamrocks in the traditional St. Patrick’s Day ceremony involving U.S. and Irish leaders, Prime Minister Bertie Ahern asked Mr. Bush to push for a way for “current Irish immigrants to legalize their status in the United States on a permanent basis.”

That sort of lobbying, which comes as Congress is debating what to do about illegal aliens and new temporary workers, has become a standard plea from foreign leaders meeting with Mr. Bush.

While some nations, such as Ireland and Mexico, want citizenship for their illegal alien nationals, others want the United States to lift the caps for temporary student or worker visas.

That was the request Mr. Bush heard earlier this week from the Slovak Republic’s prime minister — a message Mr. Bush told reporters was made “very clear” to him. And two weeks ago, in his joint press conference with the Indian prime minister during a trip to New Delhi, Mr. Bush called for an expansion of skilled worker temporary visas.

Speaking with Pakistani reporters before his trip to India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mr. Bush said he is working to loosen visa restrictions.

“We had a very restrictive visa policy right after 9/11,” he said. “Our visa policy was a natural reaction to a terrible event that took place, but it didn’t take me long to realize that we were missing a great opportunity to have students from Pakistan see the real America.”

The issue is coming to a head in Congress. The House voted for an immigration enforcement bill in December. The Senate is preparing for a full-scale debate on creating a new guest-worker program and offering a path to citizenship to illegal aliens already in the United States.

Ireland’s government has lined up behind the legalization plan of Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, which is expected to receive a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee in two weeks. It is unclear whether that plan has majority support on the Senate floor, and the plan is unlikely to survive a House-Senate conference because too many House Republicans say it amounts to amnesty.

Mr. Ahern said if the McCain-Kennedy plan fails, Ireland will then ask for specific consideration for Irish nationals, or what he called “an Irish arrangement.”

Those calling for immigration restrictions said the amnesty President Reagan signed into law in 1986 was a failure, as it effectively prompted an increase in illegal entries.

“We certainly have legal channels to get people like the Irish or whomever from any other nation to be residents or legal immigrants, but we learned our mistake in 1986 and it’s not something we should be willing to repeat and encourage an even greater problem down the line,” said Rikki Horton, who lobbies on immigration for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Even as Ireland pushes for more liberal U.S. laws, it is moving the other direction at home, including trying to find and deport aliens whose asylum applications were rejected. Ireland also has passed a referendum ending “birthright citizenship” for children of non-Irish nationals born in Ireland. That issue is proving contentious in the United States.

Also contentious, apparently, is the current U.S. status of Gerry Adams, leader of the IRA-allied Sinn Fein party in Northern Ireland.

A New York congressman said yesterday that Mr. Adams was detained at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport after attending the White House event, the Associated Press reported.

Last year, Mr. Bush barred all Northern Ireland leaders from the St. Patrick’s Day event to put pressure on Mr. Adams because of his links to the IRA.

Rep. Brian Higgins, New York Democrat, who had invited Mr. Adams to speak in Buffalo, told his audience last night that Mr. Adams didn’t make it on time because he had been detained at Reagan Airport.

A spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration said she could not confirm that Mr. Adams had been detained. Jennifer Peppin said the TSA log showed no record of Mr. Adams’ having been detained or subjected to secondary screening.

A Homeland Security official said Mr. Adams had left the Washington area, but he would give no further details.

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