A member of the Irish Parliament who’s in Iowa to attend St. Patrick’s Day festivities in Emmetsburg is urging America to re-think immigration policies. Michael Finucane spoke this (Tuesday) morning before the Iowa House and Senate and told lawmakers there are about 50-thousand Irish citizens who are living in America today — and considered illegal immigrants.

“Many of those have been here for the past maybe eight to 10 years,” Finucane says. “They live in a twilight zone, fearful of returning to their own country for bereavements, weddings and other functions on the basis if they do return to Ireland now they will not be (allowed) to go back to America.

“Experts estimate there are as many as 11 million people are living illegally in the U.S., and Finucane says the plight of those 50-thousand Irish citizens likely cannot be considered separately from the rest. “I do recognize you have problems in relation to immigrants because possibly cannot adopt an ala carte approach in treating the Irish exclusively no matter how much you respect what we have done for America in the past,” Finucane says.

Finucane hails the “close links” between Ireland and America. “America was kind to Ireland in difficult times with immigration in the 18th century, with immigration in the 19th century and with immigration in the 20th century,” Finucane says. There are now about 100-thousand U.S. citizens living in Ireland and Finucane describes Ireland’s immigration policy as an “open door.”

Due to Ireland’s “Celtic Tiger” economy in which there is virtually no unemployment, Finucane says Ireland has “accepted very readily immigrants from other countries.” For example, in the past year along, Ireland has accepted 70-thousand people from Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. As for the reason behind his trip to Iowa, Finucane says many Irish politicians spend St. Patrick’s Day abroad.

Finucane says he’s visited the United States before, but mostly in big cities. Finucane speculates that Iowa is very much like his home in Limerick which has a “strong” agricultural and industrial base. Finucane was a county councilman for 18 years before being elected to the Irish Parliament two years ago.