Wednesday 24 July 2019

Ian O'Doherty: 'Immigrant 'caravan' heading for the States puts our own illegals under US microscope'

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from Central America en route to the United States, walk along the highway to Matias Romero from Juchitan, Mexico. Photo: Reuters
Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from Central America en route to the United States, walk along the highway to Matias Romero from Juchitan, Mexico. Photo: Reuters
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

In AN alternate universe which is the stuff of many Irish nightmares, this country is currently girding its loins for the visit of Donald Trump, where he will be warmly greeted by our newly installed President Casey.

Thankfully/sadly (delete according to personal taste) such an encounter remains in the realms of a feverish fantasy, but given the current focus on illegal immigration into the United States, it might have actually been the perfect time to grab the ear of the Potus.

Of course, there are some rather more pressing matters occupying Trump's mind at the moment - most notably today's midterms, which are the most hotly contested and financially costly local elections in living memory.

But while the internal domestic wrangling is undoubtedly compelling, in much the same way a train wreck or a car crash can be compelling, international attention has been on the so called "caravan" of Central Americans winding its way through Mexico towards the southern US border.

Immigration is the most divisive element in Western politics and the caravan - there are actually four - is simply a larger, more photogenic version of what has been happening in Europe for the last three years.

Those first mass incursions into Eastern Europe by people fleeing the Middle East threatened to turn into a bloodbath, particularly along the border between Hungary and Serbia. That the most gruesome image from those early clashes was the picture of a Hungarian camerawoman kicking a migrant was more down to luck than design, and the possibility of serious bloodshed is even greater on the US border with Mexico.

Those fears have only been deepened by the arrival of armed bands of American militias who style themselves the "posse comitatus", a throwback to the war of independence when ordinary citizens would take up arms to defend the nation.

Any scenario which involves soldiers, thousands of immigrants and hundreds of trigger-happy militia members requires a cool head and wise words from the president - which is not what Donald Trump is designed for.

As chaos, poverty and violence now engulfs ever larger swathes of the planet, such cases are destined to become more frequent. But it has been interesting to see that even many senior Democrats have been careful about how they approach the issue.

After all, either you have borders or you don't. Either you have an immigration system with rules and procedures or you don't.

The younger, more progressive factions of the Democrats are effectively calling for an end to all immigration controls, although the smarter ones are playing down their ultimate goal of open-borders. But the very same problems which face various European governments are the ones which currently face America - how do you cope with tens of thousands, and ultimately millions, of people who are determined to get into your country whether you like it or not?

The belligerent attitude of many of the caravans' organisers hasn't softened American attitudes, and the fact so many of them are behaving like unwelcome and unwanted guests who turn up at someone's house and start demanding shelter has made it easier to dismiss them. But Trump's quotes last week sent a shockwave through most observers.

His assertion - "Please go back, you will not be admitted into the United States unless you go through the legal process. This is an invasion of our country and our military is waiting for you!" - was seen by many as a threat to shoot any migrants who demonstrated against the authorities or threw rocks at the military.

Trump was forced to backtrack and deny he was giving a shoot-to-kill order against rock throwers, but in such circumstances, it is all too easy to imagine a large scale Bloody Sunday-style massacre taking place - history has taught us all too well that once one person starts shooting, it creates a feedback loop which is far more difficult to stop than start.

But there is an Irish dimension to all of this is and it's one we need to examine closely.

To further bolster his nationalist, nativist credentials - as is his right, lest we forget - Trump has started to talk more openly about revoking the 14th Amendment, which affords citizenship to anyone born in the country, regardless of the legal status of their parents.

As we have seen with the recent case of Eric Zhi Ying Mei Xue, who was born here to Chinese parents and was at the centre of the recent high-profile deportation storm, Trump is merely advocating the same system we voted for in this country in 2004 with our 27th Amendment.

American constitutional experts are divided about whether he has the power to enforce such a rule and if he does try, it will spend years in federal court. But many illegal Irish people who have American-born children will be looking at that move with a sense of genuine dread.

For obvious reasons, it's impossible to get an exact figure on the number of Irish living illegally in the States, but figures range from the lowest of about 15,000 to a high of about 50,000.

Many of those people have lived there for years and have raised families who consider themselves American, yet they would face the same restrictions and threats of deportation as any South or Central American who entered illegally.

But it doesn't have to be that way if we play things smart.

It's often forgotten, but we were one of the few countries to actually achieve an increase in visa allocations under the Trump government and, ironically, the Irish enjoy a warmer welcome in the White House than they ever did under the sainted Obama.

That tentative warmth was further illustrated last month with the news that the White House was considering a revamp of the visa situation which would greatly help the illegal Irish and would slow the increasing number of Irish citizens who have been deported for overstaying their visas.

As ever with all things Trump, you can look at him in appalled horror and conjure up as many insults as you wish - such a pursuit seems like a recreational sport for many of our politicians. Or, on the other hand, we can put pragmatism for our own citizens ahead of the desire to be seen to be outraged.

The caravan stunt won't work because Trump simply can't afford to allow it to work.

But it will place all forms of illegal/undocumented aliens under the microscope and if played correctly by our reps in Washington, such as John Deasy, this is actually a perfect time to get the concessions so many Irish living in America need.

Or we could just keep insulting him and blow our opportunity.

Irish Independent

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