Feds are grabbing immigrants, then deporting them speedily
BY PETER F. STEVENS
President Donald Trump is keeping his pledge to unleash US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to ferret out illegal immigrants, and the impact of the directive on Boston’s Irish community has swelled over the last year. The immediate future looms even worse for Irish who have overstayed their visas or fallen into other undocumented and illegal categories.
According to the Irish International Immigrant Center in Boston, ICE has rounded up at least 17 local Irish, most of whom had remained in or near Boston in violation of their 90-day holiday visas. Over the past three months or so, ICE has seized and deported an ever-rising number of Irish nationwide. In the larger picture, in the eleven months since Trump signed his executive order on rounding up illegal immigrants, ICE has made 33,366 more arrests than in 2016, a leap of 30 percent.
ICE and the administration have refused to provide national numbers of Irish who have been swept up in the agency’s net, leading to speculation that the White House does not want to anger the many older Irish-Americans who, although supportive of Trump’s efforts vow to crack down on illegal immigrants from south of the border, Asia, and the Middle East, might take exception to men and women from Ireland being added to the mix.
Several Trump surrogates have claimed over the past year that the president’s focus is on illegal immigrants who have criminal backgrounds. On the campaign trail, he branded them as people who not only overstayed, but had played the system by grabbing every entitlement, like welfare and food stamps, they could find. Of course, he singled out Hispanics, conveniently sidestepping any overt references to Irish illegals, presumably aware that some 40 million Americans claim Irish descent. Just a week after Trump’s election victory, Anne Anderson, Ireland’s ambassador to the US, told the Irish Times: “The immigration issue is, of course, so live. We know about the large numbers of undocumented Irish that have been living in the shadows. Many of them now are living in fear, and that is a huge issue.”
In regard to illegal Irish, ICE acknowledges only that a surge in rounding up illegal immigrants has been under way at the administration’s order.
A year ago, people in the Boston Irish and immigration communities raised deep concerns over the fate of local Irish who had overstayed their visas. Ronnie Millar, executive director of the IIIC, and well-known immigration attorney John Foley saw the crackdown coming.
ICE maintains that its agents search for anyone who has violated immigration laws and that the agency is especially concerned by those with a criminal past – the “murderers, rapists, et al” – that the president has spoken about. The IIIC confirms that most of the Irish seized by ICE in Boston have violated the 90-day visa waiver, but counters that most offenses are traffic violations and other minor infractions. At Boston courthouses, ICE officials have looked for and seized illegal immigrants standing in front of judges for such routine issues.
To Simon Carswell, of The Irish Times, Millar noted, “We have definitely seen in Boston greater enforcement, and we are representing a number of individuals and we are supporting them as best we can. There is a deep, deep concern about the increased activity here.”
Millar related that the IIIC “has heard of instances of undocumented Irish being arrested at home, including one individual who woke up to find two ICE officers in his bedroom. The increased clampdown on the undocumented has led some to consider moving home,” he said, adding, “There are definitely people saying enough is enough, and they are returning to Ireland.”
John Foley told the BIR that the Irish who have come to the United States since Jan. 12, 2009, through the Visa Waiver Program are particularly vulnerable. They were required to file an application through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, or ESTA. In effect, this is their travel permit. ESTA is not a US visa and applies only to foreigners visiting the United States by plane or ship. Any travelers entering through those venues must provide a “valid machine-readable passport or ePassport,” according to ESTA guidelines. If someone from Ireland tries to take a US-bound flight without an approved ESTA Travel Authorization or a valid US Visitor Visa, he or she might not be allowed to board. If someone overstays their allotted time—for the Irish it was good for two years—he or she is permanently out of the system and subject to immediate deportation.
Foley also pointed to another category of immigrants facing deportation. Trump and ICE have targeted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which allowed some three million children brought to the US by undocumented parents to come out of the shadows with legal status to remain in America without fear of deportation. Signed by President Obama, the DACA allowance has been overturned by Trump. Unless Congress takes action, DACA will end this month.
“If Trump keeps his promise to overturn DACA,” Foley said, “he’s talking about kicking out kids who all have clean records, are good students, and are positive in every way to America. A lot of these kids are Irish,” he added.
The IIIC is providing assistance to illegal Irish ensnared by ICE, but, as Foley points out, ICE is moving so fast to deport them that they are sometimes processed and put on a plane back to Ireland before anyone takes notice. The IIIC is telling illegal Irish never to follow ICE agents out the door unless they arrive with a warrant bearing a judge’s signature.
Foley, who has represented illegal Irish caught up in the ICE crackdown this year, spoke prophetic words not long after Trump’s win: “I’ve been doing immigration law for years now, but I’ve never seen so much fear in the immigrant community.”
“In 2017, there’s been a 30-percent increase by ICE in arresting illegal immigrants. What’s unusual is that Boston is the only major city experiencing a rise in the number of illegal Irish being rounded up. We’ve wondered if this is because Boston is a sanctuary city, but so is Chicago, and there’s been no similar rise in the arrest and deportation of Irish. More Irish in Boston face deportation than in any other spot nationwide.”
The speaker is Ronnie Millar, executive Ddrector of the Irish International Immigration Center, as he talks with the BIR about the ongoing crackdown by ICE on illegal Irish in the Boston area
“Of course, the number of Irish facing deportation is not on the scale of other immigrant groups,” he says. “Still, the Irish stand with our Latino brothers and sisters and those of all nationalities, races and religions. What’s going on is shameful and heartbreaking. Irish and other immigrants in Boston are being treated as criminals even though most have no criminal offenses whatsoever.
“ICE agents are acting with little simple human decency and compassion. They arrest people with no criminal background – other than a traffic ticket sometimes – and with American spouses and children. ICE places them with hardcore criminals,” Millar said. “Families are torn apart. Tom Homan, ICE Director, has said, ‘We’re coming after you [undocumented].’ They’re doing so with an aggressive, punitive approach and mindset.
“We’re trying to help illegal Irish and others as much as we can,” he added. “We try to provide legal services, and because ICE is deporting people so rapidly, we’re working to help the families about to be left behind, to be separated. The suddenness of it all is overwhelming financially and emotionally for husbands, wives, and especially kids. Right now we’re dealing with two young Irish illegals who have American wives and kids and will be deported just in time for Christmas.
“It’s devastating and happening more and more in our community,” Millar said. “We’ve lost our way in treating good families like this. It’s like what was happening in Europe in the 1930s. “We should be better than this…”
– PETER F. STEVENS