Undocumented Irish-born: We must care for children born here

Undocumented Irish-born: We must care for children born here

In March of last year Leo Varadkar proposed a deal with the United States offering visas and residence rights to Americans who want to move to Ireland in exchange for protection for the undocumented Irish in the US.

It was recognition on the part of the Irish Government that there are still thousands of Irish people who are living on the margins of society in the US because their status as immigrants has never been legitimised.

That proposed agreement is still a work in progress and the issue of the undocumented Irish also featured last month in a conversation between the Taoiseach and the US president at Shannon when Donald Trump arrived in Ireland, following his state visit to the UK.

The Taoiseach is anxious not to abandon those Irish nationals in the US and that is, of course, laudable and welcome. However, neither he nor his Government appear to have given much thought to the plight of undocumented people here, particularly children and young people.

As a survey published today shows, there are many Irish-born but undocumented children and young people here long term, yet their status has not been legitimised. Their status flows directly from a referendum in 2004 that removed the automatic right to citizenship for all children born in the Republic of Ireland. Now, only children with at least one Irish parent have that entitlement.

It is the one key differences between the undocumented here and those living in the United States. Under the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, adopted in 1868, citizenship is automatically granted to anyone born within and subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.That means that children of illegal immigrants are automatically entitled to citizenship if they were born there.

In recent years, Ireland has taken great strides in gender equality and human rights but acting humanely towards child migrants is not among them. Indeed, some of the children born in Ireland around the time of the referendum have faced deportation.

In one high-profile case last year, Eric Zhi Ying Xue — a nine-year-old from Bray, Co Wicklow — faced removal from the state despite having been here for his entire life.

His case was taken on by Health Minister Simon Harris who said:

The idea that a nine-year-old boy who is as much from Wicklow as I am … would be told that he is ‘going back’ to China, a country he had never been to, was simply ludicrous.

Nevertheless, the reason for that is because more than 79% of the electorate voted to make sure that children born in Ireland to two foreign parents would have no right to citizenship. The Irish Born Child Scheme, brought in in 2005, has allowed some children to remain here but it is only a stop-gap measure.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has said there are no plans to revisit this amendment but there is no need to. The 27th amendment to the Constitution does not prevent our elected representatives from acting sensibly and humanely. It is up to all Irish citizens to demand that they do so.

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