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Illegal Irish in New York fear 'anybody in a shirt and tie who might rat them out'

More than €72,000 has been provided to fund counselling and suicide prevention services to the Irish community in New York.

Image: AP/Press Association Images

MANY IRISH EMIGRANTS in America are facing a tough and lonely environment, according to the New York Irish Centre.

The assessment comes as Minister for the Diaspora, Jimmy Deenihan, announced more than €72,258 to provide counselling and suicide prevention services for the Irish community in New York.

Paul Finnegan, the executive director of the New York Irish Center, told “This is a timely development, given the increasing emotional difficulties being faced by Irish emigrants in a tough and lonely environment, where there is often little hope, especially among the undocumented.”

‘People are scared’

An Irish service provider in Boston who did not wish to be named said that undocumented people have ongoing fears about being deported:

“Enforcement numbers have gone up which creates more fear in the community and you know of family and friends who are in immigration custody or have been deported.

Anybody in a shirt and tie is official, and they are also afraid that even if you are not going to rat them out that you are in contact with people that might.

“They are like the suspect community of the Irish in London in the early 90s where the threat was terrorism, here it is illegal status and they are scared.

“We estimate there could be up to 10,000 undocumented people living in the Boston area.”


The UCD Clinton Institute report on the Emigrant Support Programme found that “multiple interviewees noted that young professionals are willing to overstay once their short term visa expires.”

A spokesperson for the New York Irish Centre said, “The younger generation who may have been here for 10 years but don’t have any children are a particular concern as people got their hopes up before Obama’s immigration reforms and then they were left very disappointed.

The undocumented who can’t go home can find this time of year very difficult. The loss of a relative is also another very difficult time for people who can’t go home.

Undocumented emigrants are not eligible for public assistance and routine medical procedures are not covered in the US.

Another service provider in New York spoke about the barriers the undocumented often face in terms of healthcare:

Health insurance and coverage is a big problem…people only go [to hospital] if it is an accident or illness, they will sooner ignore something that is a very serious issue because of the thought of ‘what will this cost me?’

“It is awful that people have neglected something until it is too late.”

It’s also reported that many of the older generation who emigrated in the 1950s, 60s and 70s may now find themselves in an economically vulnerable situation with little savings to meet rising healthcare costs.

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Mind Ur Buddy 

The new funding from the Irish government will enable Pieta House to set up the first Pieta Room outside of Ireland – in the New York Irish Center – for Irish people in crisis. It will also support the training of counsellors and counselling services.

The three main Irish centres in New York – the Aisling Center, the New York Irish Center and the Emerald Isle Immigration Center –  are involved in the pilot programme.

Pieta House will also work with the GAA to deliver the ‘Mind Ur Buddy Programme’ to GAA members in New York.

Mind Ur Buddy is a peer support programme designed to help individuals spot when a colleague or teammate may be in suicidal crisis.

Pieta House is aiming to train 500 GAA members in New York. GAA Community & Health Manager, Colin Regan, said:  “The important support network provided by GAA clubs to their members abroad is well documented.

“Having recently launched our Striving & Surviving in Australia resource at the International Rules game in Perth we are pleased to see Pieta House making available the Mind Ur Buddy programme to GAA members in New York.”

Read: Undocumented and living in the US? Here’s what the new immigration reforms mean for you>

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