US deportations taking a toll

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Concerns have been expressed at the accelerating rate at which undocumented Irish people living in the United States are being deported back to Ireland.

Nineteen-year-old Dylan O’Riordan, originally from County Galway, has already been detained for four months in punitive conditions by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In the Suffolk County House of Corrections in Boston, the teenager is required to wear a bright yellow jail jumpsuit at all times.

He moved to the US when he was 12 years old along with his parents, who are both legal US Permanent Residents. He now faces deportation on the basis he has overstayed his visa.

“I was aware how with Trump immigration was going to get a lot harder, but I didn’t pay as much mind to it as I should have, which was my first mistake,” he said.

Dylan is confined with 150 men in a section of the county jail contracted to ICE. “There’s a lot of people from El Salvador, a lot of Guatemalans, couple of Haitian people, and I’m the only Irish in the whole facility,” he said.

O’Riordan’s lawyer points out that his client was brought here when he was a child, but ICE won’t budge.

“Their position has been, well, he waived whatever rights he had when he came,” said Tony Marino. “Twelve-year-olds don’t waive rights! I’ve never seen anything like it. I can’t wrap my head around it.”

A prominent local Irish immigrant, John Cunningham, went on camera with an Irish TV crew last year talking about his fear of living illegally in Boston. Weeks later, ICE arrested him and sent him back to Ireland.

Kieran O’Sullivan, of the Irish Pastoral Centre in Boston, said that the number of Irish being sent home from the US has surged, with a total of 34 Irish immigrants being deported in 2017.

Mr O’Sullivan explained there had been a number of high profile ‘detentions’ involving Irish people in the Boston area over the last 12 months.

He said it was “disturbing” that detainees spend lengthy periods in jail while paperwork regarding their expulsion is processed.

“This causes considerable upset to the families of those detained whether in the US or back home in Ireland,” he said. “This notion that’s out there - that they’re a threat to the country - is nonsense.”

Emigration from Ireland has been officially encouraged by successive Irish governments, and it is a process that continues. The late former Tanaiste Brian Lenihan asked people to leave, telling them “we can’t all live on a small island”. This week Taoiseach Leo Varadkar urged young people without wealthy parents to emigrate to save up for a mortgage.

It is estimated that as many as 50,000 unauthorised Irish are living in the shadows in America. Fine Gael TD John Deasy TD has been appointed to be special envoy to the U.S. Congress to work out a solution to the problem.

Fionnuala Quinlan, the Irish consul general in Boston, says with the island’s small population there’s hardly a family in Ireland that doesn’t know of someone living illegally in the U.S.

“That’s really why the government places such a strong emphasis on it,” she says. “We know the impact that living an undocumented life has on people not being able to go home for funerals or celebrations, the fear and isolation that can result from that.”

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