Irish Prime Minister Pushes Immigration Issue at White House St. Patrick's Day Event

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, at the White House to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, said Friday that he hopes the U.S. Congress will embrace President Bush's immigration proposal that would affect illegal Irish immigrants in the United States.

"The resolution of this issue would mean enormous amounts to so many Irish men and women," Ahern said of the 50,000 to 70,000 illegal Irish immigrants in the United States. "I fervently hope that they will, in the not too distant future, be able to step away from the shadows and into the sunshine of this great country."

In a traditional trek to the White House on St. Patrick's Day, Ahern gave Bush a bowl of shamrocks, a symbol of warm relations with the U.S.

Ahern said he hoped, at their meeting later in the afternoon, he could talk with Bush about several challenges facing the international community, including poverty, Middle East peace, global warming and air transport and trade liberalization.

Bush also nudged Congress to pass his guest worker program for immigrants.

"Irish Americans remind us of our heritage as a nation of immigrants and our duty to remain a welcoming society," Bush said.

Bush, who wore a green tie for the occasion, noted contributions of more than 34 million Americans who claim Irish ancestry. Nine signers of the Declaration of Independence were Irish, and they also are noted for contributions to literature, industry and schools.

"St. Patrick's Day is an occasion that unites two distinct groups of Americans," he said. "Those who are of Irish decent, and those who wish they were."