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Sunday 19 November 2017

Plight of undocumented Irish echoes that of migrants here, campaign claims

Sarah Stack

Sarah Stack

THE plight of thousands of Irish undocumented in the United States mirrors the lives of illegal immigrants in Ireland, campaigners claimed.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore have been called on to consider President Barack Obama's planned immigration reforms while they lobby for the rights of their own citizens in Washington over St Patrick's Day.


The Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MCRI) said an estimated 30,000 people have made Ireland their home but have no rights, while some 50,000 Irish are in America


Bill Abom, of MCRI and Siptu, said he was full of hope that proposals being put forward by the Obama administration would be followed by the Irish government.


"There are amazing similarities between people in the US and the undocumented in Ireland," he said.


"They are separated by a pond, but have very similar issues."


Campaigners are fighting for "regularisation" both in Ireland and the US so the undocumented would gain credits over a five year period based on their integration.


Points would be given on employment, paying taxes and PRSI, the ability to speak English, schooling, and community involvement before they could become legal.


The proposal, submitted to the Department of Justice in 2011, is backed by Elisa Fuentes who has not seen her three children in six years.


The 41-year-old care worker has a job, bank account and pays taxes, but cannot visit family in the Philippines for fear she will not get back into Ireland.


"It's very hard being undocumented," said Ms Fuentes, whose 14-year-old son and nine-year-old twins are being cared for by her elderly parents.


"We prepare your food, we clean your houses and offices, we provide care for your children and old people.


"We are your friends, neighbours, co-workers and students.


"The majority of us contribute to society by paying tax and PRSI and contribute 18 million euro annually in consumer spending to the Irish economy.


"But we have no rights."


Meanwhile Ciara Lavery, 34, from Lurgan in Co Armagh, revealed she was illegal in Boston for 11 of the 15 years she has been living there.


"I never thought being undocumented would be a problem," she said via a video-link at the press conference.


"At the start it was very easy to come in and out, then 9/11 happened and there was no coming back.


"There are people older than me out here whose parents are old and they haven't seen them in 15 years.


"These people, like me, have paid taxes and work 50, 60 or 90 hour weeks.


"Something has to change."

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