It’s been 16 years since Billy Lawless came to Chicago from Ireland to build his fortune in the tavern business and nine years since he began sticking his broad neck out to put an Irish face on the need for immigration reform in the U.S.
On Thursday, a very successful and prosperous Lawless and his wife Anne were sworn in as U.S. citizens at a naturalization ceremony here along with 137 other new Americans.
I’d like to think there’s a connection there —between Lawless’ tireless advocacy for immigrants of all persuasions and the success he’s had in the hospitality industry, most recently as owner of The Gage, a popular restaurant on Michigan Avenue.
It takes guts for a businessman to get involved in the toxic political debate over immigration reform. Most opt to stay on the sidelines. The barrel-chested Lawless plowed right into the middle as if it were a rugby scrum from his youth in Galway.
I remember the angry letters I got when I first wrote about Lawless in 2006 after he took up the cause of making drivers licenses available to immigrants living here without legal permission.
Rather than back down, Lawless just kept getting more deeply involved.