Speaking in New York last week, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin announced that several American groups servicing the needs of Irish immigrants would soon receive $2.3m in Irish Government aid.
And he emphasised that this year’s grants — bringing to $105m the amount that Dublin has awarded via the Emigrant Support Program since 2004 — will |benefit groups “providing frontline services to the elderly and socially disadvantaged”.
That may have been music to the ears of 80-year-old Bridie Murphy — an Irish-born Boston resident of 60 years, who recently had her Green Card confiscated by US Customs and |Border Patrol agents at the city's Logan Airport after returning from a visit to family in |Ireland.
According to Boston’s Irish Emigrant newspaper, before planning her 10-month sojourn, Mrs Murphy checked with Boston immigration officials to ensure that her prolonged visit wouldn’t be problematic.
“I was told by them that, since I was not going to be out for a full year, I would not need a re-entry permit,” she is quoted as having told an immigration counsellor at the Irish Pastoral Centre in the nearby city of Quincy.
The re-entry permit referred to is usually issued to legal US residents expected to be outside the country for up to two years. Eventually, after reportedly being questioned for three-and-a-half hours, the Galway native was released.
But, because officials made her surrender her Green Card — which grants her permanent legal residency in the US — some now fear that she could be deported back to Ireland. Mrs Murphy’s conundrum occurs at a time when two of her sons are serving in the US military.
Unfortunately, her plight also occurs when immigration issues are among the most volatile on the American political spectrum. Days before Micheál Martin made his grants announcement, Republicans in the US Senate succeeded in blocking the latest Democratic effort to broaden the pathway to citizenship for some immigrants without documents.
During a vote in the Senate involving the so-called ‘Dream Act’ — which would have granted legal residency to undocumented youths who’d spent two years |in college or the military — Republicans mustered more than the 40 votes needed to derail the bill.
Republicans accused Democrats of playing dirty by tacking it on to a $726bn defence spending bill, thereby opportunistically exploiting military spending to curry favour with the highly-valued Hispanic voters in November’s crucial congressional elections.
Defenders of the Dream Act accused Republicans of continuing to stoke the nativist sentiments that spawned Arizona’s controversial immigration control law. Last April, a month after vowing to do “everything in my power” to fix America’s “broken immigration system”, President Obama conceded that Washington hasn’t the “appetite” to tackle the issue this year.
In August, he yielded to pressure from staunch proponents of increased border security and signed off on $600m-worth of new immigration enforcement spending — including funding for 1,200 more National Guard troops on the US-Mexican border.
Such beefed-up border security makes the predicament of elderly Bridie Murphy seem all the more absurd.
That being said, these are truly extraordinary times in America — a time when fear seems regularly to trump reason.
This is a time when, in spite of irrefutable birth certificate proof to the contrary, 27% of Americans accept gossip that Obama wasn’t born in America — and therefore isn’t legally president.
As such, however nonsensical the case against Bridie Murphy may appear to be, she may have some time to go before she can be assured of remaining in her adopted homeland.