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Irish and undocumented: Ireland’s émigrés dodged deportation until the Trump era

in Government & Policy/Highlights by

11 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States. 50,000 of them are Irish.

Often, the face of immigrants who seek legal resident status are brown and Latino; but, black and white undocumented persons suffer the same consequences if detained by Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS).

Added to the fears of the undocumented, is a rise in immigrant arrests from across racial and ethnic lines heightens concerns.

Photo credit: Nitish Meena

During Barack Obama’s presidency, INS deported more unauthorized immigrants than any other US Administration. With a year under the Trump Administration, a visible drop in deportations shows, but documented are a dramatic spike in arrests and placements in detention centers.

The reason for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to jail undocumented persons is far from notions of citizenship and patriotism. It is rooted in the love of money.

More earnings come from holding a person in a detention center than a citizen in jail. Estimates in 2016 show that taxpayers foot a bill of $10,854 per deportation. Also in the year, ICE used $3.2 billion in arrests, processing and deportations.

As detention centers fill with undocumented populations, privatized prisons experience a boom. The profits provide incentives for investors to lobby for arrests and long-term detention. many who support Trump. Now, no one is safe. Not even whites.

No Luck O’ the Irish

Recently, BBC news reported the deportation of John Cunningham, an undocumented Irishman who came to Boston on a 90-day work visa in 1999.

In 2014, INS issued a warrant for Cunningham’s detention, but he skipped the hearing. In June 2017, he was arrested and sent back.

The tight-knit Irish American community in Boston expressed shock. Some were not aware of his status, while others thought that authorities should grant leniency; allowing him to stay.

Up until his detainment, Cunningham enjoyed more mobility in the US than most immigrants. Insulated by his whiteness, he started a business then moved into middle-class status.

Even he admitted that his whiteness afforded him a mobility other undocumented immigrants do not possess.

“Most people think undocumented and they think people who come across the southern border. They’re not thinking about the Irish guy who lives right next to them,” Cunningham said in an interview with a WUNC reporter. “They don’t see that part of it, but we have to live with that every day.”

According to research by the Minority Policy Institute, Mexicans, Central and South Americans make up 77 percent of unauthorized people. As far as undocumented whites, they fly under the radar, largely.

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