With a Brighton man under arrest, Irish community on a nervous watch

Boston’s Irish community is on edge after the arrest by immigration police of a Brighton businessman who was charged with being an undocumented immigrant.

John Cunningham, the 38-year-old former chairman of the Boston Northeast GAA and the owner of an electrical contracting business, was charged with violating the visa waiver program, which allows foreigners to enter the US for 90 days. The Donegal native is said to have come to Boston in 2000 under the program, and has lived in this country without documentation since that time.

The federal officials made the arrest at his Brighton residence on June 15 and he has been held in Suffolk County jail awaiting deportation.

A spokesman for the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency said that Cunningham was arrested by ICE officers for “immigration violations,” according to the Irish Independent newspaper. “Cunningham entered the country lawfully under the Visa Waiver Program, but failed to depart in compliance with the terms of his visit,” the official said.

Speaking on an RTE radio news program, Boston immigration attorney John Foley said there was “a great deal of fear” in the Irish-American community at the news of the arrest. “Basically his world has been turned upside down. He’s been hit with an immigration tsunami,” Foley told RTE. “Life as he knew it is over. And so he, like many in Irish community are living, is looking over his shoulder, if you will.” 

Foley said that it was almost certain that Cunningham would be deported. “It’s not a question of the deportation going ahead – it’s going ahead.” He explained that Cunnigham was here on the visa waiver program, allowing a stay for 90 days. The waiver part means they’ve waived all right to judicial processing.

“Perhaps now more than ever before, there exists a deep anxiety and fear in the immigrant community with the daily news of increased ICE imprisonments and deportations,” said Ronnie Millar, head of the Irish International Immigration Center (IIIC.) “For me, one of the very serious recent developments was the clear warning from ICE’s acting director, Thomas Homan, that ICE plans to increase imprisonment and deportation of undocumented immigrants (even those without a criminal background).

Millar said that ICE arrests are up this year by 38 percent over last year, and to date 144,353 immigrants have been deported in 2017, 46 percent of whom had no criminal convictions. ICE has an average daily population of 39,610 immigrants in prison,” he said, adding that ICE’s director Homan has announced that undocumented immigrants should be “uncomfortable and looking over their shoulders.”

It is estimated that there are 11 million undocumented foreign nationals living in the United States, with about 50,000 them Irish. The Irish Independent reports that Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs has urged concerned Irish citizens to remain calm and to stay in touch with their local Consulate and Immigration centers. It said that, if necessary, people should consult with an immigration lawyer about their particular circumstances.