Undocumented Irish urged to be ‘calm but vigilant’

Fear growing over administration’s plans to clamp down on illegal immigration

Representatives working with undocumented Irish people in the US have urged their clients to be calm but vigilant as fear grows over the administration’s plans to clamp down on illegal immigration.

A memo released by the department of homeland security on Tuesday reveals president Donald Trump’s instruction to target any immigrant living illegally in the US, regardless of whether they have committed serious crimes, for deportation.

The memo also outlines plans to hire up to 15,000 immigration officials and border control staff in an effort clear the backlog of deportation orders, and to target people who have “abused” the public benefits system.

Speaking during a visit to Ireland on Wednesday, Chicago-based businessman and Irish Senator Billy Lawless said he had previously thought president Donald Trump's election promises on controlling immigration would be "all bark and no bite", but Tuesday's announcements "have changed things".


“Everybody is scared, there is a lot of fear out there,” he said.

“Even those with a minor traffic offence could now be a target for deportation. The new enforcement policies appear to apply to every undocumented person in the US. The Obama administration only focused on serious criminals.”

US immigration attorney Caro Kinsella said any brush with the law, no matter how minor or how long ago, puts people in danger if they are undocumented.

“Even if you have no brush with the law, if you overstayed a visa for example, this puts you in danger of being deported.”

Urging vigilance, she advised undocumented Irish immigrants “not to open your door unless there is a properly signed warrant with your name. Have a game plan, and if detained do not speak or sign anything and exercise your rights to speak to an immigration attorney.”

Since Mr Trump’s election, Irish immigration centres across the US have reported an increase in inquiries from concerned undocumented clients, particularly with news spreading of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids on homes in recent weeks.

The Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers (CIIC) said it had not heard of any Irish nationals being taken into custody by ICE since Mr Trump’s inauguration.

President of the CIIC Celine Kennelly, who is also executive director of the Irish Immigration Pastoral Center in San Francisco, said it was important that people "remain calm and follow all local and state laws".

“We continue to encourage people to be prepared with a plan and have documents readily in-hand should an issue arise,” she said.

The CIIC is also advising undocumented clients to seek free legal advice from their local immigration centre; to speak with a qualified immigration attorney if they have a pending deportation order; and have an emergency plan arranged with family and friends in case they are arrested.

Chairman of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform Ciaran Staunton said he was "disappointed but not concerned" about this week's announcements, which he sees as "a continuation of Obama's policies, just with a bit more bravado from Trump".

“Two and a half million people were deported under Obama’s administration, and we didn’t get panicky about that, or worry that the police were going to come knocking on doors in the middle of the night,” he said.

“I am not concerned about the effect on the Irish community. I don’t think it is going to make much difference.”

Mr Staunton said it was unlikely funding for the additional 15,000 enforcement and border control staff would be approved by Congress.

“It is a good soundbite, to have extra security, but that is going to cost huge money. Who is going to pay for it? It’s like Trump’s wall - they don’t know where the money is going to come from.”

Ciara Kenny

Ciara Kenny

Ciara Kenny, founding editor of Irish Times Abroad, a section for Irish-connected people around the world, is Editor of the Irish Times Magazine