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Donald Trump announced the start of the raids in June.
Donald Trump announced the start of the raids in June.
Image: Alex Brandon

'It is what keeps me awake at night': Irish fears rise as migrants are detained in the US

Undocumented Irish woman Ali is living in limbo in the US.
Jul 16th 2019, 6:10 AM 34,632 52

UNDOCUMENTED IRISH PEOPLE say they have been living in fear as raids have begun to take place by the US’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) department.

US President Donald Trump announced the start of these raids in June and said that ”millions of illegal aliens” would be removed from the US. 

It was reported yesterday that Irish man Keith Byrne, who is married to an American and has been living in the US for over 10 years, was arrested and detained by ICE last week. 

Byrne runs a painting and decorating business in the US. He was pulled over by officers on his way to work on 10 July. A GoFundMe page for Byrne and his family has so far raised over €17,500. 

ICE said it would conduct raids in at least 10 US cities last Sunday. It planned to arrest around 2,000 undocumented migrants who recently entered the US.

However, reports since the raids began have indicated that the sweep was much smaller than this. 

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said he had heard of three ICE raids on Saturday, but none resulted in arrests.

‘We are really just going to sit tight for a while’

An undocumented Irish woman living in the US for nearly 20 years, named Ali, told TheJournal.ie that she has grown more fearful of being caught and deported over the past month since Trump announced the raids.  

Ali hasn’t returned home to Ireland since moving to the US after finishing college. She now lives in New York with her young son who has autism. 

She married a US citizen but the pair separated shortly after their son was born. She didn’t get a green card when they got married because her husband had tax issues. 

“We got lax during the Obama administration because I’m a white woman married to a white US citizen,” said Ali.  

“Then lo and behold, here comes baby,” she said of Trump being signed into Presidency. 

People who marry US citizens do not automatically become citizens themselves. They may be eligible for a US green card, which is a path to citizenship.

Those who get a green card and stay married and living with their spouse for three years can then apply for citizenship. 

Ali has been trying to get citizenship but found it difficult to find someone to sponsor her application. 

Many people require a sponsor when applying for US citizenship, including those who have worked in the US for less than 10 years. A sponsor signs an Affidavit of Support, agreeing to financially support the person applying for citizenship. 

Ali said her estranged husband will not allow her son to move home with her to Ireland so she must remain in the US. 

“We are really just going to sit tight for a while,” she said.

She currently lives with her son in New York. Her son loves to open their front door and greet their neighbours as they come downstairs. However, recently she has had to put a stop to this. 

“I had to put a deadbolt on the door to stop him doing it. We don’t know who is going to be at the door anymore.”

Ali said she has been in contact with some other undocumented Irish living in the US. A lot of them have deleted their phone contacts in case they are detained and their phones are seized.

The more they do these raids, the further underground we are all pushed… It is what keeps me awake at night.

“My nightmare is my six-year-old autistic son in a cage. Once they start arresting more Europeans, [the public] will be singing a different tune and it will be too damn late.”

Irish government reaction

Waterford TD John Deasy was appointed government envoy to the US Congress advocating for Irish undocumented immigrants. Deasy estimated in 2017 that there were around 10,000 to 15,000 undocumented Irish in the US. 

“We are aware that a crackdown has been politically advertised, but it is unclear at this point how widespread it is,” Deasy told TheJournal.ie. 

“People caught up in any of the previous raids will be dealt with by the embassy in Washington directly.” 

Fianna Fail spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Trade Niall Collins has called for the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney to push for the protection of undocumented Irish people living in the US. 

“Both of our governments must explore measures which could resolve this long-standing issue,” said Collins in a statement. 

“Thousands of Irish people have made their homes and their lives in the United States and have made a positive contribution to their adopted country, many have married and have children. 

“The government must continue to press this issue and highlight the benefits of providing a legal pathway for the undocumented for all concerned.”

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Orla Dwyer

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