Belfast Telegraph

Irish immigrants hold their breath as visa war rages

By Jim Dee

Meet Derek from Drogheda. Like many undocumented immigrants, he knows that his below-the-radar life in America could end at any moment. For Derek, that moment almost came nine years ago on Boston's infamous Southeast Expressway.

"We were sitting in traffic and this [state police] trooper was behind me. And I could tell he was just running [licence] plates," said Derek, who asked that his last name not be published, due to his status.

After the cop pulled alongside him to get a look at him, he flashed his lights and pulled Derek over.

"My heart dropped," said Derek, who's worked as an electrician in Boston for 17 years. "All I could think about was my daughter. Everything was flashing through my mind, basically, you know, 'This guy is going to arrest me. I'll be put into deportation proceedings. I'm screwed'."

The officer told him that he suspected that he wasn't the owner of the car, which he wasn't. A friend had lent it to him, and the car was fully insured. But Derek didn't have a Massachusetts driving licence.

Derek said: "But I had my lunch pale with me in the car and a child's seat in the back. And he said, 'Look, I'm not going to bust you. I can tell you're a father and just a working man. You can just go on ahead'."

Derek, now 43, is one of an estimated 50,000 Irish who are among the roughly 11m undocumented immigrants in America.

Since coming to Boston in 1996, he's only returned home once – to attend his sister's 1998 wedding.

In 2001, Derek and another immigrant, with whom he was then living, had a daughter. Having an American child made him unwilling to risk another visit home, lest he be denied re-entry. It also meant that he would never again see his grandmother and father, who died in the intervening years.

In the current immigration law reform war being waged in Congress, a 'pathway to citizenship' for the undocumented is the pivotal battle.

Democrats support it, as do many moderate Republicans, including Senator John McCain.

But the Republican hard-Right has, so far, browbeaten its party caucus in the House of Representatives into rejecting the Senate's overwhelmingly backed immigration reform bill.

Passed in June by a 68-32 margin, the Senate's bill includes, among other things, beefed-up border security and a citizenship 'pathway', contingent on fines and a 10-year wait. It also includes 10,500 renewable visas each year for people from Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Given America's rapidly growing Latino population, many observers think Republicans will have a very tough time recapturing the White House, unless they row in behind immigration reform efforts – and soon.

So, even though hardline Republicans seem to be ruling the roost in the House at the moment, it's hard to fathom that the party leadership won't eventually secure enough Republican votes to win passage of some version of reform by the end of the year.

And, until then, Derek will remain on tenterhooks.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph