Friday 21 September 2018

Oireachtas members back boycott of July 4 embassy party

Fiona McEntee
Fiona McEntee
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

The Trump administration's policy of separating families at the US border is "a new level of low", according to immigration attorney Fiona McEntee.

Nearly 2,000 immigrant children have been separated from parents during a six-week period in April and May, according to the US Department of Homeland Security.

Ms McEntee, originally from Dublin but now based in the US, attended a Labour media briefing yesterday calling on members of the Dáil and Seanad to boycott the Irish US Embassy's Independence Day celebrations in protest at US President Donald Trump's border and immigration policy.

US Chargé d'Affaires Reece Smyth plans to host a celebratory garden party at the US ambassador's residence in the Phoenix Park on July 3, titled 'United We Rock'.

Ms McEntee has been practising immigration law in the US for 10 years, and was based in O'Hare Airport in Chicago for six months after Mr Trump's inauguration, assisting detainees.

"But what is happening is a new level of low," she said. "We are hearing direct reports of families being separated. "These are families seeking asylum - many of them have travelled for upward of a month with their children and they are being separated at the border.

"We are hearing reports that there are children in cages, they are being detained away from their parents.

"As a mother, as an Irish citizen, as a naturalised US citizen, as an immigration attorney, I just can't sit by and say nothing," she told the briefing.

"We have a duty to speak out and use our voice.

"I don't know how anyone could attend a reception in the US embassy and drink to 'United We Rock' knowing what is happening to these poor children."

She said attending the event would be tantamount to celebrating a policy of "ripping children apart from their parents".

Labour Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin chaired the briefing and said boycotting the celebrations was a "small, but powerful" gesture.

Senator Billy Lawless, who has worked extensively with undocumented Irish in the US, also described the latest policy as a "new low".

"The United States for me was always a beacon of hope for people all over the world.

"They set the bar for human rights and civil rights and to see what has happened in the last couple of years is quite frightening," he said.

"I am a parent and a grandparent and it is so unnatural to break families up.

"This is wrong and it should not be what the United States is about."

Mr Ó Ríordáin said the Oireachtas was in a unique position geographically and politically - with Brexit to the east and Trump's administration to the west - and it was time to make a stand.

"The idea that you would drink champagne and eat cocktail sausages while we know what is happening on the southern border of the United States would be unthinkable," he said.

A spokesperson for the US Embassy said: "The United States of America respects the freedom of individuals to express their opinions and their right to peaceful protest."

Irish Independent

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