Undocumented Irish in US welcome reform plan
Orla Kelleher, executive director of the Aisling Irish Community Center in Woodlawn, New York
Recent moves on immigration reform have given hope to the Irish community
For the past 20 years, Michael has been looking over his shoulder. He left Co Donegal when he was 20 and is now married in New York with three young children. He is one of the estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish living in the US.
His wife is also an undocumented immigrant, and they live in a cramped two-bedroom apartment, unable to drive for legal reasons and can’t return home for fear of being barred from re-entering the country.
“My daughter is always asking when can she get her own room,” Michael says. “But because of our legal status we can’t get a mortgage. Travel is always a risk so we rarely take a vacation. I haven’t been home to Ireland in 15 years. Neither my wife nor I can drive, and so if our children need to get to a birthday party or to a doctor or wherever, we have to take taxis everywhere.”
There was some hope last week for Michael and others like him that the administration in the US may be committed to looking at immigration reform.
A cross-party group of senators announced they are examining legislation that could pave the way to citizenship for more than 11 million illegal immigrants.
Orla Kelleher, executive director of the Aisling Irish Community Center in New York, says there is cautious optimism in relation to the announcements.
“I think what we heard is an emphatic commitment to producing a comprehensive immigration reform Bill in the very near future. It seems very promising. A lot of people who have lived here undocumented for over 20 years are quietly optimistic about it.”
For Michael and his family, their life is in New York and will remain so. He enrols his children in private schooling, as he doesn’t want them to be a burden on the public education system, and his employers accept his illegal status.
He would like to be able to visit his family in Ireland, move perhaps to a larger home in New York and take his children on holiday.
“My oldest child is nine years old now, and this is the only place she knows,” he says. “I have work here full time with a good company.
Turning back the clock
“Where I come from in Ireland there is no employment. Even though we are undocumented, the future looks good out here. When you leave when you are 20 years old, you don’t think about how it will impact on you down the line. It is too late now, I can’t turn back the clock.”