Saturday 10 December 2016

'Two Trump supporters asked me if I was legal... now I engage less with customers' - Irish woman in US

American dream is turning into a nightmare for the 50,000 undocumented Irish

Graham Clifford

Published 20/11/2016 | 02:30

President-elect Donald Trump. Photo: REUTERS/Mike Segar
President-elect Donald Trump. Photo: REUTERS/Mike Segar

Lauren is wary. "So you won't say where I'm from, right? Or give my surname?"

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I reassure her countless times but still she speaks in hushed tones down the telephone line with a TV booming in the background. She wants to tell her story but she's afraid that immigration services could track her down and deport her back to Ireland.

"Part of me yearns for home. I saw online last night the Christmas lights were switched on in Dublin and cried as I imagined walking down Grafton Street again with my sisters, doing our Christmas shopping, looking forward to great nights out in our local town."

Since the election of Donald Trump, Lauren tells me she hasn't been able to sleep.

Indeed, for the 50,000 undocumented Irish in the US, there have been so many sleepless nights.

"He clearly plans to take action against the undocumented," says Lauren nervously. "My fear is that when he starts, he won't know when to stop. I live in San Francisco, which is a 'Sanctuary City' where if you're caught for a misdemeanour, you can't be handed over to immigration officials - but he's talking of changing all of that. I feel like I'm going to be hunted down. And I've started to think I'd be better off coming clean and booking a flight home."

Demonstrators chant slogans in New York during a protest against the election of Donald Trump (AP)
Demonstrators chant slogans in New York during a protest against the election of Donald Trump (AP)
Protesters are stopped by Los Angeles Police officers during a protest and march against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Los Angeles, California, U.S. November 11, 2016. Photo: REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian
Protesters are surrounded by Los Angeles Police Department officers before they were detained in Grand park across Los Angeles City hall after a march and rally against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Los Angeles, California, U.S. Photo: REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian
Protesters are detained by Los Angeles Police Department officers after a march and rally against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Los Angeles, California, U.S. November 12, 2016. Photo: REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian
California Highway Patrol officers are deployed at the entrances of the 110 freeway in an attempt to stop protesters getting on the freeway to block traffic during a march and rally against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Los Angeles, California, U.S. November 12, 2016. Photo: REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian
Protesters march in the streets of Downtown Los Angeles during march and rally against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Los Angeles, California. Photo: REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian
Protesters take part in a march and rally against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States on the streets of Downtown Los Angeles, California, U.S. November 12, 2016. Photo: REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian
Protesters march in the streets of Downtown Los Angeles during march and rally against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Los Angeles, California. Photo: REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian
Several hundred protesters are arrested by Los Angeles Police Department officers after a march and rally in protest to the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Los Angeles, California, U.S. November 12, 2016. Photo: REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian
Protesters march in the street to demonstrate against the election of President-elect Donald Trump in Atlanta, Friday. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Michael Moore joins demonstrators in New York during a protest against the election of Donald Trump (AP)
Police detain a demonstrator at a protest in Portland, Oregon, against the election of Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters
People gather at Portland City Hall to protest of the election of president-elect, Donald Trump. Photo: Mark Graves/The Oregonian via AP

In early 2009 Lauren lost her job as a receptionist in a small Dublin firm and found it impossible to find a new job.

"I took a position outside London for six months but really didn't like it there. A friend suggested I come to New York for a few months and while there I could do some hours in a bar where she worked. Those few months turned into seven years and I haven't been home since."

She dated a New Yorker for two years and says had they married, her woes would have been over.

"We talked about it, getting married, but deep down I knew he wasn't the one. I know others in my situation would have done it for the legal status but I didn't feel it was right."

Lauren now works in a bar in a San Francisco suburb and she tells me the counter has become something of a shield which she finds herself hiding behind more and more.

"Most undocumented Irish over here work in bars, restaurants or on construction sites. I never worried about being a bar tender but now I think it might be too public a job. Like a couple of months ago, two guys, Trump supporters, asked me out straight if I was legal. I was shocked but managed to maintain my composure, giggle and say I was. I wear a wedding ring at work, ham up the American accent and have built up a false story about a husband from Connecticut. Now I engage less with customers just in case they're suspicious of me."

So is it all worth it? The fear, the uncertainty, the feelings of shame?

"Before I came to America, I used to think what's wrong with those people? They're breaking the law and have no basis to whine and complain," says Lauren.

A supporter of the far-right English Defence League group is restrained by police after shouting his views, and disrupting an anti-racism protest against U.S. President-elect Donald Trump winning the American election, outside the U.S. embassy in London, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
A supporter of the far-right English Defence League group is restrained by police after shouting his views, and disrupting an anti-racism protest against U.S. President-elect Donald Trump winning the American election, outside the U.S. embassy in London, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
People protest on the University of Connecticut campus against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in Storrs, Conn. (AP Photo/Pat Eaton-Robb)
Protesters walk in the middle of traffic lanes after Donald Trump's election victory, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016 in downtown, Portland, Ore. Portland police made no arrests during Tuesday night's post-election protest. (Stephanie Yao Long//The Oregonian via AP)
Protesters walk in the middle of traffic lanes after Donald Trump's election victory, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016 in downtown, Portland, Ore. Portland police made no arrests during Tuesday night's post-election protest. (Stephanie Yao Long//The Oregonian via AP)
Berkeley High School students assemble on the UC Berkeley campus in protest to the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Berkeley, California, U.S. November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage TEMPLATE OUT
A young man wearing a Berkeley High Class of 2016 shirt wipes away ters during a protest in response to the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Berkeley, California, U.S. November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Berkeley High School students begin to march after assembling in front of Sproul Hall on the UC Berkeley campus in protest to the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Berkeley, California, U.S. November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Alice Bynum (C) stands with other Berkeley High School staff members and holds a sign while attending a protest about the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Berkeley, California, U.S. November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Two young women hold up a sign reading "nasty women unite" in protest to the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Berkeley, California, U.S. November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Placards lay on the floor during an anti-racism protest against U.S. President-elect Donald Trump outside of the U.S. Embassy in London, Britain, November 9, 2016. Picture rotated 180 degrees. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
People hold placards at an anti-racism protest against U.S. President-elect Donald Trump outside of the U.S. Embassy in London, Britain, November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
People hold placards at an anti-racism protest against U.S. President-elect Donald Trump outside of the U.S. Embassy in London, Britain, November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
A supporter of the far-right English Defence League group is restrained by police during a protest against U.S. President-elect Donald Trump outside of the U.S. Embassy in London, Britain, November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
A supporter of the far-right English Defence League group expresses his views to media during a protest against U.S. President-elect Donald Trump outside of the U.S. Embassy in London, Britain, November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
People hold placards at an anti-racism protest against U.S. President-elect Donald Trump outside of the U.S. Embassy in London, Britain, November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
People hold placards at an anti-racism protest against U.S. President-elect Donald Trump outside of the U.S. Embassy in London, Britain, November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
A woman holds a placard at an anti-racism protest against U.S. President-elect Donald Trump outside of the U.S. Embassy in London, Britain, November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Demonstrators protest against the election of U.S. president-elect Donald Trump in front of the White House in Washington November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
People hold placards at an anti-racism protest against U.S. President-elect Donald Trump outside of the U.S. Embassy in London, Britain, November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
A man holds a placard at an anti-racism protest against U.S. President-elect Donald Trump outside of the U.S. Embassy in London, Britain, November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Hannah McKay FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
A woman holds a placard at an anti-racism protest against U.S. President-elect Donald Trump outside of the U.S. Embassy in London, Britain, November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
A man holds placards at an anti-racism protest against U.S. President-elect Donald Trump outside of the U.S Embassy in London, Britain, November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
University of California, Davis students protest on campus in Davis, California, U.S. following the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Max Whittaker/File Photo
A protester faces a police line in downtown Oakland, Calif., early Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. President-elect Donald TrumpÄôs victory set off multiple protests. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group via AP)
Police officers walk past an overturned newspaper rack during protests in Oakland, Calif., late Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. President-elect Donald TrumpÄôs victory set off multiple protests. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group via AP)
Madeline Lopes, left, and Cassidy Irwin, both of Oakland, march with other protesters in downtown Oakland, Calif., early Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. President-elect Donald TrumpÄôs victory set off multiple protests. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group via AP)
An Oakland police officer checks out damage after a window was broken by protesters at a car dealership in downtown Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. President-elect Donald TrumpÄôs victory set off multiple protests. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group via AP)
A trash fire burns during protests in Oakland, Calif., late Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. President-elect Donald TrumpÄôs victory set off multiple protests. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group via AP)
A woman yells as she takes part in a protest against President-elect Donald Trump, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
University of California, Davis students protest on campus in Davis, California, U.S. following the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Max Whittaker

"And now I'm one of them. I've built a life here, pay all my taxes, volunteer at a local homeless centre, work 60 hours a week and feel this city is where I belong. Those who knock the undocumented need to understand that we are willing to put our family lives on hold for this. That's how much it means to us. I'm not a terrorist or a scrounger - without people like me, we're told, the wheels of the American economy would grind to a halt."

In Chicago, Billy Lawless, Galway-born restaurateur, campaigner for the rights of Irish migrants to the US and the first ever overseas-based member of Seanad Éireann, explains that the undocumented are extremely worried.

"They seek reassurance but we're operating in the dark. Every time you think this won't be as bad as we feared, something else happens which causes ripples of panic. The appointment of conservative Stephen Bannon as chief strategist by President-elect Trump sends a message that migrants feel very uncomfortable with - especially the undocumented."

And he tells me of a meeting of undocumented migrants from around the globe held in Chicago last week where 200 people walked out of the shadows seeking some form of positive news.

"Of the 200 in the room, at least 100 were in tears. I don't think, in all my time in the US, I'd experienced anything so grim in terms of the undocumented issue."

It all seems a world away from June of this year, when outgoing President Barrack Obama put an executive order before the Supreme Court which could have paved the way for thousands of undocumented Irish, who'd been in the US for at least five years and who had children born there, to come and go as they please and finally visit their native land.

"You know, we thought that executive order would make it through, but the Supreme Court judges were equally divided and so the order was defeated. It was devastating and the legal limbo continues," says Billy.

Trump's reaction to the ruling was that the courts "kept us safe".

Billy says despite the rhetoric and showboating of some, he's hopeful the undocumented Irish in the US will continue to live in relative security.

"Chicago is a complete migrant city. Without migrants it, and so many other cities, wouldn't function. Many of these are undocumented. And thankfully this is a Sanctuary City and it must continue to be so. I'm an optimist and hope sense will prevail but I must send a word of warning to any young Irish people thinking of coming to America and remaining to work beyond their VISA entitlements - do not do it, you'll end up regretting it."

Seamus from Tipperary regrets it when the Premier County hurlers take to the field for All-Ireland Final Sunday.

"That's when my heart really sinks. What I wouldn't give to be standing on the hill," he says in such a strong Tipp accent that you'd doubt he'd ever crossed the county bounds. There have been other times, too, over the last 21 years when the dad-of-one has felt so isolated.

"My grandfather, with whom I was very close and who'd visit me on Thanksgiving nearly every year, passed away a few years ago. It was tough not being able to say goodbye."

Still the family travel en masse to his new home in Illinois to celebrate the holidays each year but as Seamus explains: "It's hard to describe how difficult it is saying goodbye to them at the airport. It's heartbreaking but my little lad here now is six-years-old and so I feel I have to remain for as long as I can."

Seamus's wife is a legal US citizen but as he entered the US via Canada on three separate occasions over the years, the last time in 2000, legal status through marriage is not available to him - for now.

"In the next few months, my lawyer is going to lodge a request for me to remain and get a work permit. It's a risk but he's confident it will work. We're going to argue that I did nothing wrong entering through Canada but that immigration officials didn't ask me any questions or alert me to potential wrong-doing."

There's a risk that by putting his head above the parapet in the Trump-era an unsuccessful legal challenge could result in detainment but Seamus, who co-owns a construction company, says he's not too worried.

"Look, what's the worst that could happen? If we're deported, then we'll just have to make the best of it and start life again at home."

But for every one laid-back Seamus there are 10 worried Laurens. They all wait anxiously to see what happens next.

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