100 Days of Trump: Undocumented Irish communities living in fear

The finger of blame for the uncertainty facing the Irish in America is pointed squarely at the Irish government

100 Days of Trump: Undocumented Irish communities living in fear

Irish businesses on McLean Avenue, Yonkers, New York

As Donald Trump heads towards his 100th day in office, one of the issues that has arguably defined his presidency has been his approach to immigration.

President Trump has repeatedly pledged to deport immigrants who come to America illegally - and there has been a surge in federal detentions since he entered the White House.

The stance has led to real worries among the undocumented Irish community in America – with families who have built their entire lives stateside at risk of being torn apart.

Newstalk reporter Richard Chambers has been travelling throughout the US over the past number of weeks to get a taste for what is happening on the ground in Trump’s America.


Speaking to Pat Kenny this morning, Richard said the finger of blame for the uncertainty facing the Irish in America has not been pointed at Trump – but rather at the Irish government for failing secure a deal.

He said that while there might be a perception that the Irish are not the target of Trump’s clamp-down – the reality is that the law will have to be enforced across the board.

Speaking to members of the Irish community on Mclean Avenue, in Yonkers just north of the Bronx in New York City, he said there is a very noticeable sense of dread in the air.

Undocumented Irish immigrant Barry told Richard that he has been in the US for 23 years. He has a good job in construction and said the challenges of being undocumented have been growing in recent months.

“This is the worst ever now,” he said. “A lot of people are worried this time around whereas before it wasn’t too bad; now it is a bad, bad atmosphere.”

Arrest and deportation

He said there is no room for error anymore – adding that any infringement, “the stupidest smallest thing” could lead to arrest and deportation.

“I am paying my taxes; I am here 23 years; I have three children; my oldest is 14,” he said. “Every now and again I mention to them I might have to go home and my kids actually break into tears.”

“They were brought up the American way, I put in my Irish influence and family values into them but at the end of the day they really are American citizens.

“They have made their life here and they don’t want to go - and I fear too if something ever does happen, what does happen to my kids? This is the only life they have ever known.”

Family sacrifice

He said he has missed countless family occasions since he moved to the US – adding that when he left the country, his youngest sister was a one-year-old. She is now 24 and he might have seen her five times throughout her whole life.

“I know a lot of people might be listening to this and saying ‘it is your own fault, you went there illegally’ but I left Ireland because there was no work for me.

“When I left Ireland there was no such thing as the Celtic Tiger so I had two choices – emigrate or stay on the dole.”

For a large majority of the Irish community, undocumented means undocumented – no bank account, no driver’s licence, no social security number and no path to normalisation.

St Patrick's Day

Barry said the community has no need for speeches from the Taoiseach at the White House - but instead real diplomatic efforts find a resolution.

He said he has met countless politicians on their journey to the US for St Patrick’s Day over the years – all of whom he feels have let the community down.

“If this is to be improved it really has to come from Ireland; it really has to come from the Irish government. There is nothing going to happen in the US - the US situation, it is what it is,” he said.

“If they come back next year and they haven’t done anything - there will be no meeting,” he said. “I will never meet with another minister again if anybody comes back next year and I am in the same situation.”

Unwelcome return

For emigrants who are considering returning home there are also significant barriers facing them on their return.

Enda, an emigrant in his mid-twenties who will soon be moving back to Ireland, said his girlfriend had to move back already with their young child – after her mother was diagnosed with cancer.

“Whenever you leave America, that is it; that is the end of it,” he said. “We struggled for a while getting her set up in Ireland but the sad thing is that she went in to the benefit office to get support from the Irish government -because she is an Irish girl and more or less she is at home on her own with the child.”

“She is at home looking after her mother; there is no benefit for that. She is relying on me and her savings [...] and she is more or less going to be at home for seven to eight months with no support.”

He said he is not "crying looking for benefits" but warned it can be extremely difficult to get set up on your return.

Broken families

The worst nightmare for the undocumented community however is when one of their own is lifted and deported to Ireland.

Enda said the system is extremely unforgiving, regardless of how long you have spent in the country.

He told Richard that a good friend of his was picked up recently after spending 20 years in America. He said he was “locked up for a couple of weeks and deported back to Ireland.”

“His family and kids were here. They had to get everything shipped up and sent back home to Ireland, now they are trying to set up a life in Ireland after having been here for 20 years,” he said.

“When the immigration officers get you, there is no such thing as getting out of it. They put their foot down and you are gone, that is the end of it, you just have to forget about it.

“You are going back to Ireland one way or the other, like it or not, you have to forget about America - and there is no coming back then.”

Richard will be filing more reports daily right up until President Trump’s 100th day this Saturday. You can listen back to his full report for The Pat Kenny Show here: