The undocumented Irish in Boston

Posted By: April 22, 2018

Immigrant support groups in the US have reported a big increase in deportations
 Brian O’Donovan. Washington Correspondent
RTE. Dublin. Thursday,  April 19, 2018
The Government estimates that there are around 10,000 Irish undocumented migrants living in the United States.

Immigrant support groups in the US have reported a big increase in deportations over the last year since Donald Trump took office.

For many of the undocumented, day-to-day life involves constantly looking over your shoulder hoping to avoid arrest.

Washington Correspondent Brian O’Donovan traveled to Boston and met members of Ireland’s undocumented migrant community.

At the Irish Pastoral Centre in Dorchester, Boston, we met Stephen and Alan. Those are not their real names. They don’t want their identities to be revealed for fear of deportation.

Both men are builders, and we met them at lunchtime on a weekday. They were in their work clothes and were doing a construction job in the area. They work hard, they pay their taxes, they both have families, and they drop their children to school every day, but Stephen and Alan live in constant fear of being arrested by the immigration authorities.

Stephen has been living in Boston for 11 years. He tells me: “You’re driving around, dreading being pulled over by a police officer but I have to take the risk to provide for my family.”

Alan, who has been in the US for six years, has had a similar experience and says: “You go to work, you wear your seatbelt, you don’t talk on the phone while driving. You’re constantly thinking what if there’s a police car behind you? What if he pulls you over or what if someone crashes into you?”

Stephen and Alan say there is a sense of fear among the undocumented Irish community, particularly when there is a visit to the neighborhood from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, better known as ICE.

They both describe how text messages are sent between friends when ICE agents are in the area, and the place becomes a ghost town. Everyone goes underground. The bars are empty, and people stay home from work for fear of being caught.

And they are not paranoid. Kieran O’Sullivan is an immigration counselor with the Irish Pastoral Centre in Dorchester. He works with undocumented migrants and has seen a big increase in arrests and deportations over the last year.

“People are afraid,” he tells me. “They’re living their lives looking over their shoulders. I spoke to one woman who, when she goes home every night, locks the doors, pulls the shades and won’t answer the door to anyone in case it’s an immigration agent. I’ve had several detentions in the past few months. These are hard-working people with US citizen children, and these children are crying to their mothers at home asking where Dad is. I know where Dad is, he’s in prison.”

Despite having to be on your guard constantly, Stephen and Alan both say they would rather stay in the US than return home. “Work-wise, it’s great,” Stephen says. “I’ve my own business. Work and money are plentiful. Why would I go home? There’s nothing for me at home right now.”

Stephen does admit, however, that the hardest part of being an undocumented migrant is not able to leave the US even for short visits home. He recalls getting a call two years ago telling him his father had died.

“That was the worst phone call I ever got in my life. I was ready to come home, but my mother talked me out of it. It was a tough decision for me, not being able to bury my own father.”

The Irish Government is working on a reciprocal arrangement with the US government which would put the undocumented Irish on the path to citizenship in exchange for visas for American people who want to live in Ireland.

During last month’s St Patrick’s Day meeting between the US president and the Taoiseach, Mr. Trump was said to be supportive of the idea.

But undocumented migrants such as Stephen say they have heard these kinds of promises before. “I’m not getting my hopes up,” he tells me.

“I’d love just to be able to go home for a week to see family and friends. I have an 11-month-old son now. I’d love to be able to bring him to Ireland and show him where I’m from.”