Tommy O’Malley’s response to Ted Cruz’s ‘deportation’ comments

‘If his declaration wasn’t so sad, so unrepentant in its lack of humanity, you’d have to laugh’

Tommy O’Malley moved with his twin sister  from New Ross, Co Wexford, to the US in 1984.

Tommy O’Malley moved with his twin sister from New Ross, Co Wexford, to the US in 1984.

 

If his declaration wasn’t so sad, so unrepentant in its lack of humanity, its deceitful, false criminalisation of immigrants, you’d have to laugh: the image of Ted Cruz accompanied by federal agents in body armour, toting machine guns, and pulling up in black vans outside my residence, come to round me up, tear me from my family, my home, and put me on a plane back to Ireland.

The immigrant hunted down and dealt with because he is a criminal.

I applaud Bill O’Reilly for pushing back at Senator Cruz’s policy, by suggesting a scenario where a more acceptable type of undocumented immigrant – white and Irish – is brought into a discussion that until now has focused primarily on immigrants of colour.

O’Reilly’s attempt at enlarging the senator’s perspective, and ours, by placing the debate in some manner of recognisable context, highlighted a policy that is fundamentally wrong and his counter also suggested, in a more subtle and complex way, that it is a policy shaped around particular prejudices toward race.

While O’Reilly made Tommy O’Malley from Cork the poster child of white undocumented immigrants, we know that Ted Cruz’s policy is directed at minority immigrant cultures.

As much as Americans like to romanticise that everyone in their family came here in an orderly and legal manner through Ellis Island, properly documented if incorrectly named, such an idea is a grand and beautiful falsehood.

Most people, unless they are recent immigrants, simply do not know how their families arrived here and they may have no true understanding of what they went through. The path for many immigrants to legal documented status has never been a direct one or an easy one – and it has been, by the nature of the journey, a complicated one, full with the friction and conflict of arriving here (sometimes, by whatever means necessary) followed by the attempted assimilation (yes, immigrants do try to assimilate) into a culture that, most often, did not want them in the first place.

With Cruz, as with so many of the Republican candidates, there seems to be an ignorance of American history and just how immigrants have shaped America. Cruz’s immigrant parents were a part of that shaping.

But what is even more troubling in Cruz’s rhetoric is that there seems to be a fundamental lack of consciousness, an inhuman disregard for other human lives.

The shoulders of the immigrant has always carried the burden of whatever ills suffers America at the time; the immigrant and immigrant family have always been at the whim of political ambition, American greed and American hypocrisy, and, in this instance, it is concealed under the veil of religious righteousness.

How can Cruz call himself a Christian when he lacks the moral character to simply say: “No, this is wrong, we will find another way, a way that doesn’t criminalise, that doesn’t tear families apart, that doesn’t simply reflect or echo the other political soundbites crowding and blaring through every media channel.”

I think there is a certain blindness and willfulness here, a dangerous ignorance that comes from a particular type of cowardice that uses God as your shield so that you can call him your ally no matter what type of reprehensible act you commit.

And what Cruz is declaring here, as are so many of the republican candidates, is reprehensible, not because of what it plans to do to Tommy O’Malley but because of what it plans to do to 11 million people who have already struggled to locate themselves and their families within the American dream at truly no expense to American citizens and residents, but at great emotional, psychological and physical cost to themselves, and these are the people who have been contributing to our very complacent and privileged way of life without us even being aware of it.

How far our moral compass has swung from what is right to what is so clearly wrong.

In 1986, Cruz’s Irish-American and conservative hero, Ronald Reagan, found another way, a way that did not criminalise immigrants, but recognised their struggle, and he would have denounced this policy.

Reagan’s Immigration Reform and Control Act changed the way the US mainstream thought about immigrants and it seems necessary to be reminded of its clarity of vision and the humanity behind its reasoning:

“The legalisation provisions in this act will go far to improve the loves of a class of individuals who now must hide in the shadows, without access to many of the benefits of a free and open society. Very soon many of these man and women will be able to step into the sunlight and, ultimately, if they choose, they may become Americans.”

Sincerely,

Tommy O’Malley

A little of my background:

I came with my twin sister from New Ross, Co Wexford to the US in 1984.

We were not yet 16. I had just finished the Group Cert and my sister the Inter Cert, and we had come to be with our father, who’d worked here as a labourer on construction since the early 1970s. It is no exaggeration to say that he worked upon most of the buildings built during Boston’s building boom of 1970s and 1980s and, before retiring, he would finish with the Big Dig, from its beginning to its completion.

For a brief time, once our visas had expired and as we waited for legalisation yet caught in the slow grind of immigration bureaucracy, we were illegal. And we were, of course, anxious, fearful, as every immigrant feels and more so, in this present day, if that immigrant is a minority, that we might never receive the paperwork, the documentation to remain in the US, and that we might be deported. That was a long time ago, but I do not forget it.

In 2014, surrounded by hundreds of people from other ethnicities and cultures, I was sworn in as a citizen of the United States at Faneuil Hall, “the cradle of liberty,” in Boston.

If my father had been alive to see it, I know he would have been very proud, as proud as every other waving, jubilant immigrant in that room on that day despite our very different and complicated journeys to get there.

Thomas O’Malley is the author of In the Province of Saints and This Magnificent Desolation and, with Douglas Graham Purdy, the Boston noirs (that happen to feature many immigrants), Serpents in the Cold and We Were Kings.