The Irish have always flocked to America’s shores for one reason or another. Some have argued that the Irish built America itself, despite its inherent distrust and discriminatory attitudes toward them. And just how did the U.S. repay them for their work? Not well. America treated the Irish horribly. There were anti-Irish riots. There were “No Irish” signs. The Irish people were used and abused for years but they kept coming and eventually they became part of the fabric of the country where many thrived. It’s safe to say that without them, the United States would be a very different place.
Today there are 34.5 million people in the U.S. who claim an Irish heritage, which is nearly 30 million more than the entire population of Ireland itself. This includes the few hundred thousand Irish-born people who currently live and/or work in America legally but it doesn’t count the estimated 10,000-50,000 Irish people who are not legally supposed to be in the country. These folks usually settle in so-called “Sanctuary cities” like New York, Boston, and San Francisco where there are large, established Irish communities and city law enforcement agencies that do not contact or cooperate with immigration officials unless absolutely necessary. It creates an illusion of safety but the pervasive threat of discovery is serious and it’s getting more dire every day.
The undocumented Irish population is only a small percentage of the huge number of illegal immigrants in the United States at any given time and they are certainly not the people that Donald Trump was referring to when he started blustering about cracking down on immigrants or building walls. Nevertheless, it is a scary time to be off the books in the United States and immigration raids are starting to venture into the Irish communities throughout the country. This year seventeen people were detained by immigration officials in Boston alone, and at least thirty-four Irish people have been deported across the nation. That’s an increase of seven people over last year’s total…and the year isn’t even over yet.
To make matters worse, those who are trying to stay legally are facing lag times of over two years in the immigration courts. You read that right. The lines are only getting longer and if you think the old tried and true marriage visa will save you, think again. Donald Trump’s crackdowns are impacting those as well and fiancee visas are getting scarce. Even when it’s a true marriage the hassle is never-ending, as dear friends of mine know first-hand. It can take more than a year to get a green card even with a marriage and an attorney working for you, and if you’re caught working in the interim or otherwise breaking the rules you’re deported with or without your new family. It’s a mess and it’s only going to get worse with Trump in charge.
In his perfect world, all undocumented immigrants will be forced out and never allowed to return and while he has some legal hurdles to surpass, his administration has made it clear that his anti-immigrant, xenophobic agenda is a high priority. He’s already targeted sanctuary cities repeatedly, which is why ICE agents can be found everywhere, including the Irish neighborhoods. Law enforcement officials have always known where the undocumented are, but they used to turn a blind eye to the easily-assimilated Irish. Given the high pressure they’re under and their new quotas, they won’t stay blind for much longer.
So perhaps stay on that greener shore if you can because America is a hard place to survive in general – and it gets harder if you’re an illegal immigrant. The days when America welcomed millions through the gateway of Ellis Island are gone and unfortunately, the poem on the statue of liberty is not a truth or even a goal in this climate of fear and intolerance. There are still many who live by it and we will welcome you with open arms but law enforcement, the majority of the job industry, and the government will not. If you are already stateside there are a few things you can do.
First get a really, really good ID and stay as far under the radar as you can. There’s a burgeoning cooperative network between the undocumented Irish and their counterparts in the Latino communities that you should learn about and take advantage of. Always have an escape hatch and try to stay out of areas that are prone to wildfires or other natural disasters. If you travel the states, take precautions and don’t fly when you do. Don’t get involved in work disputes, protests, or fights of any kind. Find a sympathetic lawyer that you can trust who might be able to work magic and get you in line for a hearing, or a nice partner who will marry you so there will be someone to take care of the life you’ve built while the paperwork gets settled. Just keep in mind that you may have to sneak out of the US to get back in legally, or you may face a travel ban of a few years while everything gets properly sorted.
In case you’re wondering, the penalties for overstaying your Irish visa in the United States can have permanent consequences regardless of any business or family ties you have created in the country. They’re nowhere near as bad as they are for people from other places, but they will affect your life for long lengths of time. Best case scenarios include a three or ten-year ban on re-entry depending on the length of overstay. Once caught and deported, you will also face increased scrutiny whenever and wherever you travel to be sure that the ban is enforced. Others won’t be able to return at all, particularly if they’re considered criminals and in these days of Trump, punishable crimes can include everything from jay-walking and speeding to murder or worse. His new storm trooper office of “immigrant crime” will make sure any and all offenses are listed and published, just like the Nazis did before them and this increases the ever-present threat of incarceration. Nothing seems to make that Orange buffoon happier than crowing about all the ‘illegals’ he will deport and make no mistake about it, the undocumented Irish are suddenly in that net too. So please, make sure those around you are solid, venture out into other communities to learn how they cope, have a nest egg for emergencies, protect yourselves as best you can, and stay safe out there, a chairde.