Immigrants deserve fair and efficient treatment
As we think of Irish abroad this weekend, don’t forget plight of migrants in Ireland
New citizens listen to the National Anthem at a Citizenship Ceremony in the National Convention Centre Dublin. Photograph: Frank Miller / The Irish Times
This weekend’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Washington will take place amid fresh hopes of genuine immigration reform which will benefit tens of thousands of Irish people living below the radar in the United States.
As they descend on the White House, Capitol Hill and Irish centres right across the US, our own political leaders will no doubt be keen to highlight their efforts to secure change.
Successive governments have beaten a trail to Irish-American politicians to try to bring about reform, and if it is delivered they will bring real benefits for men, women and children cut off from their loved ones back in Ireland and often living in fear of a knock on the door.
It will be a time for the Taoiseach and other senior politicians to bask in the appreciation of grateful Irish communities. The battle to reach this stage has been long and hard and involved intensive lobbying.
However the politicians should match their race to claim some of the success in the corridors of power in Washington with enthusiasm about the need for reforming an immigration system in Ireland which has repeatedly been found to lack transparency and have no clear rules and no independent appeal mechanisms.
Through our work as an independent law centre, the Immigrant Council of Ireland sees first-hand the difficulties being caused for people who have decided to commit themselves to this country.
Too often they face a bureaucratic system based on discretion and with no fixed structure. Many people legally living in Ireland are cut off from their loved ones.
At the immigrant council, we have been highlighting the lack of clear, fair and just rules on family reunification. Research we have undertaken as part of a Eu ropean Union family reunification project has shown that we are close to the bottom of the league in relation to Irish citizens and migrants living here legally being able to enjoy family life in the country that is their home.
The right to family reunification is not recognised in our primary laws. As a result, migrants and Irish citizens are being split from their loved ones. In some of the more heartbreaking cases, the council is attempting to support and help parents who are watching their children grow up on Skype.
In one case, a Brazilian mother breastfeeding a nine-month-old Irish citizen baby and facing deportation turned to us for assistance. In legal proceedings at the High Court, we highlighted that sending the mother home would amount to “constructive expulsion” of the baby which would have been a breach of Ireland’s obligations under protocol 4 to the Europe an Convention on Human Rights. The protocol prohibits the expulsion of a country’s own citizens. The council secured a settlement which ensured the woman was granted residency status.
These cases are not unique, and family reunification is an issue for many people in this country.