Sunday 19 November 2017

Illegal Irish terrified of sudden 'round-up' in Trump's US

Immigrants change phone numbers and move apartments to guard against dawn swoops

Executive order: Trump’s decrees are causing concern. Photo: AP
Executive order: Trump’s decrees are causing concern. Photo: AP

Mark O'Regan and Cormac McQuinn

Undocumented Irish in the US are terrified there is going to be a sudden "round-up" of illegal immigrants by the authorities.

Some have already changed their phone number in a bid to protect themselves from a dawn swoop.

Parents of young families are especially concerned, fearing a 'doomsday scenario' might leave them separated from their children.

And in a chilling development, anybody with even a "minor" criminal conviction has now been advised not to return to Ireland before seeking legal advice - even if they are a Green Card holder - amid growing fears they may not be allowed back into the US.

It comes as concerns mount for the estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish people in America following Donald Trump's new deportation and immigration crackdown.

The president has also announced plans for the authorities to publish a weekly list of crimes committed by illegal immigrants, claiming it would "enhance public safety".

Kieran O'Sullivan, an immigration and US citizenship counsellor with the Irish Pastoral Centre in Boston, said Mr Trump's hard line on immigration would drive the undocumented Irish "further underground".

"Life was difficult for them anyway - it will be even more so now. In the past, we've lost some undocumented people to depression and suicide. It wouldn't be huge numbers, but all this added pressure will lead to even more isolation and loneliness," he said. "Everything that's going on is contributing to an increased level of fear."

Mr O'Sullivan added there was a growing sense of fear and foreboding not only among the undocumented but among Green Card holders.

"People are scared. There are people here with children, and they're afraid of what's going to happen. Could immigration officials turn up at their house some evening?

"In some cases, the children don't know that the parents are undocumented.

"The kids are asking questions at the dinner table in the evening about this topic; parents are forced to keep their status to themselves.

"It's tremendously stressful for them. We've had parents come to our clinics asking what will happen to their children if they are picked up. They're asking if they'll be detained," he added.

"A lot of the undocumented are driving on either Irish or international licences. The fear of being pulled over is enhanced - because they feel there's now a greater likelihood it could mean they get turned in.

"Legal, permanent residents, who may have some old convictions, should check in with one of the Irish centres in the US, and speak to an attorney before leaving America to visit Ireland. There are concerns among the legal community that some residents may have cause to be worried, if they have old convictions on their records."

Mr O'Sullivan said that in general the "atmosphere has dramatically worsened" for immigrants in recent weeks.

He highlighted one case in which a fearful immigrant moved apartment and changed his phone number.

"Rumours were doing the rounds of some round-ups in certain areas," he added.

"That fear will continue to be there, until such time that we can convince the Trump administration to fix the system.

"We need some sort of reform. There are good, hard-working, tax-paying people here, filling jobs that the Americans won't do."

Leslie Alcock, executive director of the Irish Immigration Centre of Philadelphia, said it had experienced a 200pc surge in general calls in the space of three days.

"So much is unknown. Are there going to be raids again? Are people going to be directly targeted? There's just so much uncertainty, and as a result of that so much worry," he said.

"People are glued to the news in terms of what might happen next. Everyone is still reeling and in shock. People are trying to find practical things they can do - so that they can try and feel more secure. The undocumented are the most vulnerable, but the fear is across the board."

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said he was "optimistic" that immigration reform would be pursued by Congress in 2017.

"I can assure the undocumented Irish that as a Government we are doing everything we can to advocate for relief and a path to legalisation.

"I raised the issue at every meeting I had in Washington and we will continue our work until this matter is resolved.

"This affects families in my own constituency so I am well aware of the distress it is causing to families on both sides of the Atlantic, and I am committed to finding a solution," he added.

Sunday Independent

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News