Challenges facing Irish emigrants - Illegal in US but in need of our help

The challenges, harrowing, and life-threatening in so many cases, faced by our emigrants over the centuries have been well-documented.

But it is unlikely that even that vast catalogue of farewells has recorded a case where an Irish person applying for permanent residency in Australia was rejected because a computer decided their spoken English was not good enough to allow them to live in the land of cockatoos, kangaroos, and wombats.

Yet, that is the situation Lucy Kennedy, aged 34, from Roundwood, Co Wicklow, who has been working as a vet in Queensland for two years, faces.

She is, unsurprisingly, a native English speaker, but was deemed insufficiently fluent by a computer. Lucy and her Australian husband, Adam, are expecting their first baby, so she has decided to apply for permanent residency.

It is more than likely that her dilemma will be resolved to her satisfaction and the experience will do little more than leave her a good story to tell at barbecue time for the rest of her days.

Other immigrants are not so lucky; their stories are hardly the stuff of barbecue entertainments.

John Deasy, who is the Government’s envoy to the US Congress, met immigration experts during a visit to Washington last month and, after that visit, he suggested that the usual evaluation of undocumented Irish immigrants in America — 50,000 — is a considerable over-estimation.

He quoted the Pew Research Center, in Washington, and suggested a far lower figure, one in the range of 10,000 to 15,000.

Pew suggests that 115,000 legal Irish immigrants lived in America in 2015, slightly fewer than the estimated 125,000 a decade earlier.

About three-quarters of legal Irish immigrants have become American citizens, according to Pew.

Mr Deasy warned that many of the illegal Irish immigrants are middle-aged or older, struggling with declining health, and facing an uncertain future. Their future is made even more complicated by US president Donald Trump’s pledge to cut immigration by half.

A bill, proposed by Republicans in the senate, will favour those fluent in English, those with work skills and a higher level of education. The current system prioritises those with relatives in America.

Immigrant support organisations are not the only groups opposed to the Trump clampdown. Earlier this week, Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel, announced the city will go to court to challenge Mr Trump’s threat to withhold public grants from sanctuary cities — those that offer protection to undocumented migrants.

Mr Trump’s mother, a teenage immigrant from Scotland’s Isle of Lewis, would surely wish Mr Emanuel, one of Barack Obama’s chief advisors, well.

The sad fate, isolation, and poverty of some of an earlier generation of emigrants — those who went to Britain over half a century ago — compels us to try to help the illegal Irish in America today, especially those who failed to realise even a small slice of the American Dream.

Great things might be achieved with modest resources and the cooperation of the American authorities.

Working on this objective would be a better way to support our emigrants than indulging wrong-headed ideas about offering them votes in Irish elections.


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