A Bronx tale: unreported crime and the undocumented Irish
Woodlawn is a leafy enclave on the northern tip of the Bronx, a short train ride or a long trek on the subway from Manhattan. It’s one of the few places in the city where you can buy Leitrim boxty or genuine Irish sausages, or spot semi-familiar names, such as the 24-hour car and limousine service called Break to the Border. And it’s a haven for the Irish community, both legal and undocumented.
Recently, the almost rural calm of the area has been disrupted by a spate of attacks, with Irish immigrants often the targets. In 2010, Barry McCormack was left in a coma after an assault on Katonah Avenue, the area’s main street. In 2011, Paul Caldwell was badly beaten three blocks from his apartment.
And last summer, Alisha Jordan, who was just 20 at the time, was attacked by a man wielding a brick, while walking home with a friend, also on Katonah Avenue.
All three are Irish-born, and all reported their crimes. There have been other alleged incidents but undocumented victims are often wary of reporting them. Despite tales of muggings, assaults and burglaries, crime statistics for the region have remained static, giving administrators little motivation for increasing the police presence.
“If it isn’t reported, it didn’t happen,” says Orla Kelleher, sitting in her office at the Aisling Irish Community Center, where she has served as executive director for the past eight years. “That’s a problem with a lot of incidents here. Particularly if somebody’s undocumented, they don’t want to report it for fear of jeopardising their illegal status here. So I would say some of them have literally taken their beating rather than reporting it.”
The phenomenon highlights the hardships that go with an undocumented status in the US, affecting individuals and the communities in which they live. People without legal status are ineligible for Medicaid or unemployment insurance. They cannot hold a driver’s licence or any official form of identification. Life can go on as normal until a problem appears and then it can swiftly become overwhelming: it may be impossible to visit a dying parent in Ireland or to drive a sick child to the doctor.
Approximately 625,000 unauthorised immigrants live in New York. Although Kelleher works and lives in Woodlawn, she says she couldn’t estimate how many locals live under the radar. Newcomers arrive at the Aisling Center looking for advice and information every week, and the policy is not to enquire about their status unless they bring it up themselves.