They’re Irish. They’re US citizens. So who will they vote for?

Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton? With three days to go, six Irish emigrants to America reveal their feelings about the upcoming election


US presidential election years tend to bring a surge in applications from immigrants seeking to become American citizens so they can have a say in who should be next in the White House.

This year has been no different. According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, there were 532,964 applications received from immigrants seeking to become US citizens in the first six months of this year, compared with 409,328 in the same period last year, a 30 per cent increase.

The higher numbers of people applying to become citizens are unsurprising given the high-profile nature of this election between two of most polarising candidates to run for office in modern times, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. In the five-year period from 2010 to 2014 – the years for which the most figures are available – 6,296 Irish immigrants became US citizens.

The Irish Times spoke to six Irish people who have recently become dual citizens of Ireland and the US about the election, their thoughts on Trump and Clinton, and who they will be voting for.

‘Clinton is a steady hand on the wheel’
Phil McNamara (42), from Craughwell in Co Galway, moved to the US 10 years ago. He is head of US sales for a tech company Voxpro that employs 1,200 people in Cork and more than 250 in California. He lives in San Francisco and became a US citizen two months ago. He likes to kite-surf under the Golden Gate Bridge and represented Ireland three times in the World Mountain Bike Championships.

“I am very proud of being Irish. It was with a tinge of regret that I applied for US citizenship. It was the right time and I am delighted I could be a dual citizen and have the right to vote.

“If Donald Trump gets in, which is a distinct possibility given what happened with Brexit, there could be risks not being a US citizen and changes that are not so friendly to people with green cards.

“Where I am over here in the Bay Area, 60 or 70 per cent of new businesses are started by immigrants. Trump will have a huge and profound impact on H1B [work] visas, start-up visas. Anything that is not pro-America he will delay and affect. They could use any opportunity to get rid of unwanted foreigners. It is unlikely, but if you put the right conditions in place, maybe it will happen. Obviously I won’t be voting for Mr Trump. The things he says are incendiary and isolationist. This is not a man who will be very open to immigrants in the future, me included.

“Hillary Clinton is fine. She is a great alternative. She is a stateswoman, knows what she is talking about and is on a good path that has brought America to where it is today. She is not a disrupter. She is a steady hand on the wheel and will do the right thing. She is 10 times better than Trump.

“Voting here feels so different from Ireland because in Ireland you feel like your one vote can make a difference. Here, you have 200 million. It feels different and because I am in San Francisco, my vote would make a tiny difference. I will still be proud to vote. I have the choice to vote by mail but I am going into the ballot box. I am proud to be making a small difference.”

‘This election is bizarre. It is kind of like a circus’
Jennifer Aho (37), from Firhouse in Dublin, moved to the US when she was 22. She is married to an American. She lived in Chicago for seven years and now lives in LA where she works as a property manager. She became a US citizen at a ceremony in LA this month.

“Applying for US citizenship wasn’t something I really thought about doing until I reached my 10-year anniversary living in the US. It just so happened that it has coincided with this big election. I am going to vote for Hillary. Having a woman president isn’t anything new to me, coming from Ireland. For me it just comes down to thing things: experience and character.

“I am still trying to get my head around the idea that Donald Trump is in the position that he is in, having no political experience. It is just astonishing to me. I would not decide to be a brain surgeon and just show up at my local hospital and say, give me a job.

“I understand that people are not big fans of Hillary because of the decisions she has made but that is about being in politics. I would rather have someone who is elected, who has seen first-hand how those things work. She has a long history of helping women and children – that speaks volumes to me. It is the main reason I’m voting for her.

“If Donald Trump cannot handle himself on TV in front of millions of people during a debate, how could he manage himself as president? That is the time you are supposed to be on your best behaviour and that is the time he loses the run of himself. That is terrifying to me.

“Obviously it is important to vote in any election, but there is just such a different vibe about this one. It is everywhere. It is on every news channel. You can’t get away from it. You are sucked into it whether or not you care. This year it is bizarre. It is kind of like a circus. I have a lot of family and friends who wish they could vote in this election so I am flying the flag for a lot of people.”

‘I personally think Trump is a lunatic’
Mick Doyle (48) emigrated to the US from Ballymun in Dublin 20 years ago. He lives in Omaha, Nebraska, where he runs a kick-boxing gym. He is retired two-time world champion kick-boxer and now works as a personal trainer. He has worked with Conor McGregor. He is a divorced father of three boys and became a US citizen in January 2015.

“I left Ireland when I was 17, so this is the first time I have ever voted in an election. Given the way the country was going I personally have taken it quite seriously, from the citizenship ceremony.

“Being a small business owner and seeing the way the country was going I wanted to be more involved. Issues were starting to affect me as a businessman and as a parent.

“I was concerned about Obamacare [health insurance scheme] and different things, looking at my son and myself accumulating student debt. A lot of the hot topics for elections were kind of all of a sudden in my crosshairs and I just felt that the next few years were going to be vital.

“I just sent in my vote. I voted early because I wanted to have time rather than decide in a booth. I am a fan of neither of them, but I did vote for Hillary because I just couldn’t bring myself to vote for Donald Trump and there really was no viable third alternative. I was personally hoping for a better third candidate. Bernie Sanders would have been a better choice for me, but a third party would be great.

“If we ended up with four more years of how it has basically been, that would be far less damaging to the country than what Trump would be capable of doing given the power it would give a guy like that. I personally think the guy is a lunatic.

“I train amateur and professional fighters, and do lots of white-collar personal training. It blows me away, as a person who emigrated here, the apathy I see among people in my gym who take the whole process for granted, take a lot of their freedoms for granted and the opportunity that this country gives people.”

A dirty politician or a dirty-talking politician’
Seamus “Shay” McShane (42) emigrated from Ballintoy, Co Antrim, to Chicago in 1994. He works in construction and engineering. He became a citizen four months ago.

“This election is very important to me, but I would have taken US citizenship without it because my wife and I were going to move back to Ireland and if I did, I could lose my green card.

“I am not going to vote either Democrat or Republican. I am going to vote for Jill Stein [the Green Party candidate]. Neither Trump nor Clinton is an adequate representative of the American people. I am against the foreign policy of both the Republicans and Democrats. I see them as very similar. They are basically all paid off once they get to Washington.

“I don’t see my vote for Stein as a wasted vote. It is just for my own peace of mind, that I am doing the right thing. I go more for policies and principles rather than parties and politicians.

“The two candidates we have are very poor options: we have a dirty politician or a dirty-talking politician. Neither of them would actually set you alight with confidence listening to them talk.

“This will be my first year voting. It feels like I am part of US society now.”

‘A vote against Trump rather than a vote for Hillary’
Michael O’Dwyer (62), from Dublin, emigrated to the US in 2007 and, rather than renew his green card for another five years, he decided to become an American citizen in July. He works for a major technology company in Silicon Valley, California.

“I haven’t made up my mind yet but I won’t be voting for Donald Trump. He comes out with completely untrue, outrageous statements and he seems to get away with it. I will most likely vote for Hillary but not enthusiastically. It will be a vote against Trump rather than a vote for Hillary.

“She never really did anything for me. She doesn’t seem like the most genuine person in the world. I would be more interested in the [local] propositions on the ballot paper. I don’t know a whole lot about Gary Johnson [the Libertarian nominee] or Jill Stein, or what they stand for. They don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell in getting elected.

“Being able to vote in this election was more about the timing. The election wasn’t a major factor for me in becoming a US citizen. My vote won’t make any difference in this presidential election because of where I live. I am in California and it is always going Democratic, so even if I was a Trump supporter, it would be a fairly useless gesture going out voting for him. It is nice to have a vote in the presidential election but being realistic it won’t make any difference.”

‘I was a firm believer in Bernie Sanders’ 
Brian Devlin (36) is an Irish citizen through his father, who was from Co Tyrone. Brian was born and raised in South Africa but has strong ties with Ireland. His brother Jonathan rowed for Ireland in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Brian came to the US on a sports scholarship and played tennis semi-professionally. A few weeks ago, he became a US citizen in Boise, Idaho, where he works for a medical devices firm.

“My green card was going to expire in January so I decided from a political standpoint that I had the opportunity to become a US citizen and to make an impact and vote.

“I don’t think this election was my main deciding factor. It was a concern about the unknown or the volatility of Donald Trump. My livelihood and family is here and that is my concern. I just want to be certain that I would be safe in the country from my children’s standpoint, from a family cohesive standpoint, and not being separated. Deportation could potentially be thrown out there.

“I am more than likely going to vote Independent or Democratic. I am not 100 per cent certain of Hillary Clinton. I was a firm believer in and supporter of Bernie Sanders, and hoping that he would have been the frontrunner. He resonated a lot stronger with myself than Clinton.

“Clinton has got the tried and true public record versus that of Trump having not served a day in his life for the public. I am kind of one of those people who thinks that if you are going to run a Fortune 500 company, you have to work your way up the ranks before you become CEO.

“It is extremely important for me to vote in this election. For the last 15 years, I have felt in many ways an outsider, always looking in wondering what my opinion would have been, where would I have put my support. I am no longer truly an outsider. I will always be a foreigner, but now I can say I am an American citizen and can voice my opinion and cast my vote. It makes a huge difference.”

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