Thursday 22 August 2019

US deportation fear taking toll on mental health of illegal Irish

DIASPORA FEARS: Senator Joan Freeman is combating mental health problems among Irish immigrants since Trump’s election
DIASPORA FEARS: Senator Joan Freeman is combating mental health problems among Irish immigrants since Trump’s election

Mark O'Regan

Donald Trump's threat to deport illegal immigrants has caused an unprecedented spike in mental health problems among undocumented Irish in the US.

Senator Joan Freeman - who is leaving Pieta House to launch a new service for the Irish diaspora in New York - says there is growing fear among illegals they may lose legal custody of their children if their families come to the attention of the authorities.

Ms Freeman, who founded the charity in 2006, will leave her role as CEO on December 31.

It will allow her to focus her efforts on growing the service to prevent suicide and self-harm, Solace House in New York.

Founded by Ms Freeman in 2014, it was officially launched earlier this month.

Based at the New York Irish Centre in Queens, it will provide free crisis intervention counselling to the Irish diaspora and others experiencing suicidal thoughts or engaging in self-harm.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, she said there has been a marked increase in mental issues among undocumented Irish since Trump's election last November.

"Couples who have their home and children in the US are now not even travelling together, just in case.

"For instance, if a couple are stopped by the police for not having a light on the back of their car, it could be the start of the deportation process. And their children are left behind because they would have been born in America.

"There's an enormous sense of fear and there's always that fear. Besides the fear of being caught out, there's also this longing for Ireland, but they can't go home.

"Particularly if there's a death in the family at home, they can't grieve for that person because they cannot go home and be present."

Ms Freeman will remain a senator while travelling back and forth to the US to develop the new service.

Most recently, she was appointed chair of the new Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future of Mental Health.

During her nine years as CEO, Pieta House helped over 20,000 people in its centres throughout the country.

Ms Freeman can be contacted directly at joan.freeman@solacehouseinc.com.

Alternatively, more information can be found at www.solacehouseinc.com.

Sunday Independent

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