November, 2015 and Congressman James Sensenbrenner is pictured meeting with then Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan during Flanagan’s visit to Washington. The two discussed Sensenbrenner’s E-3 bill during their meeting.
By Ray O’Hanlon
In the pantheon of congressional legislators that have given consideration to the concerns of Irish America, Representative James Sensenbrenner would not be considered front rank.
Some would not consider him in any rank, especially in the context of immigration reform and a more open American door for the Irish.
But Sensenbrenner, today the second most senior Republican in the House, does figure in this context by virtue of his leading role in the emergence of sought after E-3 renewable visas for Irish hopefuls.
But the clock is running down on his role. Sensenbrenner, 76, and a former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee (2001-’07) is taking leave of the U.S. House of Representatives after this November’s election.
Sensenbrenner was one of the House GOP managers of the Bill Clinton impeachment trial. He’s on the other side of the argument now.
Back in his lock ‘em up and throw them out days, Sensenbrenner was lead sponsor of H.R. 4437, a bill passed by the House in 2005 that contained additional criminal penalties for aiding and abetting illegal immigration to the United States.
Sensenbrenner’s district, Wisconsin’s 5th, spreads across the Milwaukee suburbs. Likely as not he lives in close proximity to some undocumented immigrants. Some of them might even be Irish.
If there are Irish close by some of their famed luck rubbed off on the veteran congressman, a three-time lottery winner no less.
And if that was the case, perhaps he felt he owed the Irish a little something.
Regardless of his thoughts, Sensenbrenner would team up a couple of years ago with Congressman Richard Neal, chairman of the Friends of Ireland in Congress, to author an Irish E-3 bill for House consideration.
The E-3s had been lolling around atop the turbulent sea that is the immigration debate for several years.
Back in in November, 2015, H.R. 3730 proposed an allocation to Ireland of E-3 visas not taken up by Australians who enjoyed a dedicated annual allocation of 10,500.
The bill was placed before the House by Rep. Sensenbrenner and was taken up by the Judiciary Committee. No action was taken at the time.
But with the passing of time the E-3 proposal would come up again for a vote, in November, 2018. The House of Representatives approved the legislation but it still required Senate approval.
Still, the joining together of House Republicans and Democrats appeared to auger well for a matching measure in the Senate, though the hurdle in that chamber was larger than what it was in the House.
In the latter it was two thirds support, in the Senate it will have to be unanimous.
As it turned out the House had voted unanimously for H.R. 7164, crafted by Congressman Sensenbrenner and co-sponsored by Congressman Neal.
A release posted on Rep. Sensenbrenner’s website hailed the House approval of H.R. 7164.
“Today,” it stated, “the House of Representatives unanimously passed bipartisan legislation to extend E-3 visa eligibility to Irish Nationals. The bill was sponsored by Congressmen Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI-05) and Richard Neal (D-MA-01).”
The release carried Congressman Sensenbrenner’s delivered remarks on the House floor prior to the vote.
He stated: “The United States was built on hard work and the determination of immigrants – many of them who hail from Ireland. Through their perseverance, they have enabled this country to grow and prosper.
“I believe in the value and opportunity that comes with legal immigration. I am pleased to have authored this legislation to make the process more efficient for one of our oldest allies, and add to the great legacy of cultural diversity celebrated our country.
“This modest proposal would give Irish Nationals the opportunity to work in the U.S. under the non-immigrant visa category of the E-3 Visa, previously reserved only for Australian nationals.
“Ireland in the meantime, has proposed a reciprocal work visa specific to U.S. nationals so that those wanting to live and work in Ireland can more easily do so.
“The E-3 visa is one of the most efficient U.S. visa options. Applicants outside the United States may apply directly at a U.S. consulate, thus avoiding lengthy processing times with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The visas are granted for 2 year periods (renewable indefinitely), and the spouses of E-3 visa holders are permitted to apply for employment authorization documents.
“Currently, 10,500 E-3 visas are allocated each year, yet only half of these are used. This legislation would allow Irish nationals to apply for those visas unused by Australian nationals.
“This significant addition to the U.S. immigration system will not only benefit Irish nationals seeking employment in the United States, but also ease restrictions on Americans wanting to live or retire in Ireland.
“In conclusion, I would like to say that this does not increase the number of visas that are authorized in total. It merely allows the Irish nationals to apply for the visas that Australian nationals do not want to use on a year-to-year basis.”
Sensenbrenner’s “modest proposal” would run into trouble, however.
A number of his fellow Republicans in the Senate placed holds on passage of a matching Senate bill. The holds reached a total of six, only to drop back down to just one.
But that one stayed put. Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas brought the hammer down just before Christmas, 2018, and there it would stay through 2019.
Congressman Sensenbrenner would announce in 2019 that he would not be running in the 2020 election.
Meantime, however, he is still a senior House member and in recent days his modest proposal has shown signs of life.
Congressman Neal has moved to revive the E-3s in the House and in the opening days of the New Year a bill arose in the Senate, again with bipartisan support being led by Republican Senator Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania, who, encouraged by the Ancient Order of Hibernians, has been a backer of the Irish E-3 the past eight years or so, and Illinois Democrat, Senator Dick Durbin.
Congressman Sensenbrenner will take his leave of Capitol Hill in just under a year from now. But his work for the Irish might not be done yet.