Torn between two worlds
Opinion: Undocumented migrants in Ireland face tough choices
Jayson Montenegro: ‘I don’t know where my home is now. My family is in the Philippines, but it’s 10 years since I left; I’m a foreigner there. If I leave Ireland, I’ll never be able to come back. That would break my heart.’
This is the hardest moment of my life. Three weeks ago, my father passed away suddenly, during a routine operation. The last time I saw him was in 2004, when I left the Philippines to come to Ireland for work. Since then, my parents have cared for my three children while I support them by working in Ireland.
When I first left, my youngest was five. He kept asking when I was coming back, and if I would bring him chocolate. Then he just wanted me to promise I would be home for Christmas. It’s been 10 years now and he’s stopped asking. He says, “don’t make promises, dad; just come back”.
He’s 16 now. One day last year he asked me, “dad, do I know you”? That was hard to hear. He said, “I don’t know what it feels like to have a father”. He dreams of bonding with me. Every Father’s Day his school has father-son games; he’s good at sports, he wants us to race together.
Back in 2004, I looked at my children and asked myself, can I give them a good life, or will they be the same as me: working hard but getting nowhere? As a father, you want to give your children a good future. So I left the Philippines and came here.
I worked in a bank in the Philippines, but it wasn’t enough to provide for my family. For my first six years in Ireland, I worked in maintenance – cleaning, painting, even unblocking septic tanks with my bare hands. A 3D job we call it: dirty, difficult and dangerous. I wasn’t paid much but the employer promised me a work permit so I stayed. It wasn’t until I came to the Migrant Rights Centre for advice that I discovered there had never been any chance of me getting a work permit.
With the money I earn here, my two daughters have gone to college. One has a degree in IT, the other in midwifery. I put my sister-in-law through college and supported my parents when my father’s poor health stopped him working.
My youngest wants to be a pilot. The training is expensive, so my daughters told me they would help to pay for his course. My eldest daughter is like a little mother; they support each other. I’ve missed them growing up, and now I’m afraid I’ll miss even more of their lives when they get married and have children.
I don’t know where my home is now. My family is in the Philippines, but it’s 10 years since I left; I’m a foreigner there. If I leave Ireland, I’ll never be able to come back. That would break my heart.
This is where I live and work, I have friends here; it is safe and peaceful, but because I am undocumented I can’t participate fully. I’m the same as the Irish undocumented in the US. My story is their story. I just want to regularise my immigration status, to be recognised as part of the community. We’re campaigning for a reasonable solution.
Undocumented people would earn status through working, paying taxes and being involved in the community. We could pay a fine and be assessed on a case-by-case basis. It would be transparent, straightforward and fair.
More than ever now, my children want me to come home. They are afraid something will happen to me and we’ll never see each other again. They wanted me back for the funeral. “We’ll eat rice,” they said, “we’ll live on nothing, we just want our dad.” But as my mother says, if you come back, what about your kids’ future? What then? So I watched my father’s funeral on Skype, and then went back to my job here as a carer for an elderly man.
Jayson Montenegro is an undocumented migrant in Ireland. Through Justice for the Undocumented, a group supported by Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, he is campaigning for the introduction of an earned regularisation scheme for the estimated 26,000- 30,000 undocumented migrants in Ireland.