Diaspora minister visits US amid uncertainty for undocumented Irish

US lawyer says people afraid they will be ‘hunted down and grabbed from homes’

As uncertainty hangs over the thousands of undocumented Irish living in the US since Donald Trump’s election win, the Minister of State for Diaspora has begun his three day visit to Boston today.

Immigration reform is the priority topic of discussion as US president-elect Trump said this week he would deport or imprison up to three million undocumented immigrants when he takes office next year.

There are an estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish living in the US.

Donegal Fine Gael TD Joe McHugh, a former teacher who was appointed Minister of State for Diaspora and Overseas Aid in May, travelled to Boston on Wednesday to meet a number of groups representing the Irish diaspora and discuss the challenges they face.


Mr McHugh said he was confident through a series of engagements across all government levels in the US the Irish-American relationship would grow.

“I am also conscious that many of our Irish undocumented have had false dawns over the decades,” he said.

"That being said the Irish Government remains committed to working towards a solution for our many undocumented Irish living in the United States. "

The Minister has also scheduled a meeting with the Boston mayor Marty Walsh, whose parents emigrated from Connemara to Boston in the 1950s, to talk about immigration reform.

Mr Trump said in an interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes after the election result that authorities would round up undocumented immigrants with criminal records – a group he estimated at between two and three million people – but would later “make a determination” on those, including thousands of Irish, who are undocumented but have an otherwise clean record.

“What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records – gang members, drug dealers . . . we are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate,” he said.

Chicago-based Senator Billy Lawless, who became the first Irish emigrant to be appointed to the Seanad in June, will also take part in the meetings in Boston.


Mr Lawless said a lot of people in America, including the undocumented Irish, were “afraid” since the election.

“They do not know what the future holds or whether they are safe. The fight for comprehensive immigration reform must continue and I call on the Irish government to ensure it is put firmly on the Trump administration’s agenda,” he said.

US Immigration lawyer Caro Kinsella told the Irish Times it was unclear from Mr Trump's statement what is his definition of a criminal record.

"Does he mean Mr Murphy from Cork who is undocumented with a DUI is he deemed to be a criminal and thus facing immediate deportation? Or what about the possession of marijuana for personal use, in a State where it is illegal, does this make one a criminal and face either removal from the US or incarceration?," she said.

Ms Kinsella said US Immigration services were advising people to carry ‘know-your-rights’ cards, which warned people if they are held in custody to not speak or sign anything until they speak to a lawyer.

“There seems to be a lot of uncertainty and this leads to fear and the vulnerable feeling like they will be hunted down and grabbed from their homes,” she said.

“My concern is once the initial deportations commence; will the undocumented without crimes who are caught be released or languish in detention centres until the president- elect feels the borders are secure?”

Ciarán Staunton, chairman of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, said the group would like to emphasise that Mr Trump said he was focused on people with criminal records.

“While we are all concerned with many of president-elect Trump’s statements on immigration during his campaign, we urge people not make any rash decisions or live in fear of a knock on the door,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said their "two overriding objectives" were relief for the undocumented Irish in the US and creating greater opportunities for legal migration to the US.

She said this year the Department had committed almost €1 million to Irish Immigration Centres across the US.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny had said he would work closely with the new administration to pursue a comprehensive immigration reform.

Rachel Flaherty

Rachel Flaherty

Rachel Flaherty is an Irish Times journalist