Undocumented Irish in America: ‘Come in legit or stay at home’

US immigration officials begin a sweep on thousands of undocumented immigrants

US president Donald Trump said: ‘People come into our country illegally, we’re taking them out legally – very simple’.  Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

US president Donald Trump said: ‘People come into our country illegally, we’re taking them out legally – very simple’. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images


Undocumented immigrants across the United States have been on high alert as immigration officials began a sweep on thousands of people living in the country illegally on Sunday.

The clampdown is focusing on cities with high immigrant populations including New York, Chicago and Miami.

Among those who may be affected by the new clampdown are undocumented Irish people living in the US illegally.

Keith Byrne (37), from Fermoy, Co Cork who owns a decorating business in Pennsylvania and has been living undocumented in the US since 2007, was arrested by ICE officials last Wednesday and is awaiting deportation back to Ireland.

Irish readers living in the US have been sharing their view on the clampdown with Irish Times Abroad.

Kevin Barrett: ‘If there are laws then they need to be followed by everyone’

I was born in Ireland in the mid 60s and moved to the US in 2003, sponsored by my then employer. I have since become a US citizen and the US is now my permanent home. The Keith Byrne story is very sad, and tragic for his family. That said, he was in the United States illegally. He broke the law, was caught and sadly will be deported. That’s the law and the US tends not to be flexible about it.

Ireland also has tough immigration laws and enforces them rigorously. My mother in Ireland had a housekeeper from the Philippines who, it turns out, was in Ireland illegally. He was tracked down by gardaí, arrested and deported almost immediately. That was very sad for the person concerned, his family and indeed my mother who was very fond of him. When it comes to immigration, it seems Ireland is about as flexible as the US.

I followed the immigration process to become a US citizen. It took 12 years, lots of forms, fingerprints, photographs, interviews and documentation. It also cost me several thousand dollars. At all times, I was in the US legally. So I ask one simple question: if I followed the immigration process, then why should others be allowed to come without doing so? If I pay my taxes, why should others be allowed to get away without doing so? If I obey the traffic laws, why should others be allowed to drive however they want? Put another way, if there are laws then they need to be followed by everyone and no one is above the law.

Having been through the US immigration process, I do believe that the laws need change. The process needs to become more human, and I think fair and reasonable people would agree with that. The problem in the US right now is that the two major parties are diametrically opposed on every major issue - drugs, guns, abortion, welfare, immigration, housing, big government versus small government, left versus right. The polarisation of the US over the past 10 years has increased at such a pace and with such ferocity that they are in danger of a breakdown of normal society. I do not see a fix for US immigration laws happening any time soon, and that is a tragedy. Who is to blame? Politicians. All of them. I used to think Irish politics was a joke. Then I moved to the US. It is far worse here.

Frank, US: ‘Once these things get started, where do they end?’

I came to the United States in 1958, as an infant (“graduate” of the Castlepollard Mother and Baby Home, one of the “Banished Babies”). I was naturalised as a US citizen in 1961, just shy of my sixth birthday. So everything should be okay for me, nothing to worry about. Or is there? I’ve heard that the US government is now (or will be) trawling through old records, looking for errors and mistakes and inconsistencies. Will they find anything in my record, should they look?

I never signed my certificate of naturalisation (I didn’t know how to write yet, so my mother signed it). I was told by a DVM clerk in New York that she shouldn’t have, as that renders the certificate invalid. I doubt she had much experience in actual immigration law, but certainly in that particular office would have seen a lot of official documents, from everywhere in the world. Knowing my adoptive mother as I do, she would never have undertaken such an action without explicit instructions to do so. But who knows?

At this point, no one knows much about anything this administration is doing. If I were asked to prove anything on that form, I doubt I would be able to do so. I have memories, but those aren’t proof. I haven’t lived at the address listed since 1972, I’m no long 3’-4” tall, nor do I weigh 55lbs. I no longer look like the photo attached to it-how would anyone know it’s even me, except that I have it my possession. My adoptive parents are dead. What if there’s some error? I am very concerned about the clampdown on immigrants, with or without documents. Concerned and just a little nervous. Once these things get started, where do they end?

Patrick Culliney, Prescott Valley: ‘Come in legit or stay at home’

Having migrated from Ireland in 1963, I feel very strongly that people have to come into this country legally. Undocumented folks are exposing themselves to deportation and hurting themselves and others. Our immigration system is broken but the parties won’t come to the table. The American people are tired of all the crap and propaganda, and will express themselves in the 2020 elections. Bottom line, come in legit or stay at home.

John Cotter, Massachusetts: ‘In the time I’ve lived here we’ve always had deportations’

I have lived in the Massachusetts for almost 25 years. I came here legally. I know many Irish people who came here illegally. All of them overstayed holiday visas. All of them have since become legal, either through marriage or by obtaining green cards. Every single one of them came for a better life, and through hard work all of them are to varying degrees very successful. They’ve assimilated into the community very well.

It’s easier for Irish people to blend in. Most have a strong and helpful network to help them ease into society here. It’s different for immigrants that arrive from south of the border. It’s relatively easy getting here, though not so easy to legalise their status. Hence the 12 million undocumented immigrants here. Just like us Irish, they came here to build a better life.

In the time I’ve lived here, we’ve always had deportations. Indeed, the Obama administration deported far more than Trump’s. What differentiates the two administrations is the vindictiveness, meanness and cruelty that characterises the Trump clampdown. It’s all for political gain, as his white, xenophobic, bigoted base love to use illegal immigrants as scapegoats. It is totally contrary to our founding principles, separating kids from their parents and locking them up. It’s been well documented the appalling and inhuman way we’re treating these courageous and tenacious people. They’ve suffered so much in getting here. We ought to welcome them and allow them the opportunity of making a better life for themselves and their children. We will be the better for it in the long run.

Barrie-John Murphy, Pennsylvania: ‘The law must be applied equally’

I live in Keith Byrne’s neighbouring county, Bucks , and I believe the law must be applied equally. I applied for citizenship the legal way getting a green card in a lottery system – actually using it unlike many other Irish who didn’t – and then applying for and obtaining my US citizenship in 2008. There are far too many people crossing the border illegally, or coming in under false pretences and if we are to have a country, it must be a country of laws.

Seamus Mac Aoidh, Sacramento County: ‘So many people told us to live in the US illegally’

I’m an Irishman who just married an American. We have always wanted to live in the US and had so many people (including our American family) telling us to do it illegally. We decided to live in Ireland first, because for the spouse of an American it will take 12 months to get a green card. That’s the first 12 months of marriage separated! I think the US needs to update and quicken their immigration process for these sorts of cases, and make legal immigration easier and more affordable. That way, less will seek the illegal route.

Bruce Mchoul, Georgia: ‘I do not believe illegal immigrants should be given any special treatment’

I am an Irish-American. My family immigrated to US in 1902. All our family members became legal US citizens. I was born in West Virginia. I do not believe illegal immigrants should be given any special treatment and they should be deported.

Keith Finglas, Chicago: ‘Deport’

I have a green card. Deport the undocumented illegal Irish please.

Roy Jacks, Medina County: ‘I’m amazed that there’s nothing but contempt for our immigration laws and policies here’

I’m of Irish decent. I’m constantly amazed when citizens of foreign countries decry our immigration system here, especially when theirs are far more stringent. I’m a retiree, like a lot of Irishmen, I was a cop for almost 40 years. I think I’d make a great candidate for immigration to Ireland but my chances of gaining Irish citizenship stand about as much chance as a snowflake on an August afternoon in Texas.

Please don’t misunderstand me, from what I know ( admittedly very little ) I love the Irish culture and I’ve yet to meet an Irishman here that I didn’t take an immediate liking to. There’s nothing in this world that sounds finer to me than the lilt of an Irish accent. Despite all of the good will I feel towards Ireland, I can’t but be amazed that there’s nothing but contempt for our immigration laws and policies here. Me, a good ol’ retired boy, stands not a chance of immigrating to Ireland but God himself should be angry that we, as Americans, would dare deport an Irishman who just decided to overstay his visa, open a business and live openly for 12 years.

America takes in more immigrants from around the world annually than any other country, yet we’re constantly painted by the liberal media as racists and of late I’ve heard us compared to nazis. I wonder how much sympathy an old Texas boy like me would get if, assuming I could get a visa to Ireland at all, I set up shop in Dublin and then just decided to ignore the authorities and stay as long as I damn well pleased? Try walking in your cousin’s shoes from across the pond a while before you pass judgment on us.

Luke, New York: ‘I have fought very hard to stay here, legally’

I’m a Irish citizen living in NYC for the past 16 years. I am legal, I have never overstayed a visa, I am now a green card holder. It wasn’t easy to get to this point, losing (as a result of things outside of my control) a number of jobs to which my original visas were tied and facing leaving the country where I had built a life, a home and a family. I have fought very hard to stay here, legally. I have done everything by the book, legally. Many friends were not so lucky, and when all avenues were exhausted they left the US. It wasn’t happy for them, but they followed the law.

While I have some sympathy for the human element of these stories, please be upfront in the reporting. If you have been asked to leave the country because your visa was not approved, your appeal was turned down and all legal avenues of remaining in the US have been exhausted, then you are breaking the law.

Anonymous: ‘I am 100 per cent, happy with the crackdown’

I am not concerned at all about deportations, why? Because I took the time and money entered the country legally. Entering in to a country of your own free will saying your a tourist or whatever, and they never going home is a crime. We all know this. Laws are in place to protect a country and it’s citizens. While I’ve known some very nice people who entered illegally and I feel sorry for their situation, unfortunately not all of them are so nice. I am 100 per cent happy with the crackdown, it’s long overdue, and has nothing to do with Trump except the fact he is currently the president and the media are going on it. It would suit Ireland and the EU to follow suit and enforce its own immigration laws. The law is the law.

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