Undocumented Irish have no trouble finding work in New York City
Irish tradition of immigration allows undocumented workforce to thrive
George, 26, an Irish musician living in Queens, said that most of the Irish he knew worked in construction, with 80 percent of them “off the books.”
In Queens, a key Irish community stronghold, Irish laborers accounted for almost 65,000 of the one-million-member workforce, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. In other words, legal Irish immigrants comprise 15 percent of the labor force.
In 2006, the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR) estimated that there were 50,000 illegal Irish workers in the U.S. ILIR testified that Ireland received 160 Diversity Visas out of a global total of 50,000 and approximately 2,000 Green Cards from a global total of 1 million.
Sean dismissed the notion that the history of Irish-American labor and emigration Relations account for the unique standing of Irish workers.
“It boils down to skin color. Only Irish workers get the same as Americans,” said Sean. “You’ll never see a Mexican being drunk and disorderly in public. They’re careful because they know they can be deported anytime. An Irishman walking into a construction job, even now with the recession, will get a higher hourly wage higher than other non-white employees who’ve been there for a while.”
Sean acknowledged that the recession impacted upon the illegal as well as the legal workforce, especially during the slow season of winter, when contractors give preference to legal or unionized laborers.
“It’s not the same since 2008, but there’s plenty of construction work out there for us,” Sean added.“There’s hundreds of Irish-owned construction companies.”
Sean recounted a saying from one of his former roommates: “You could just go on the piss Sunday, and get a new job Monday, no bother.”
The Emerald Isle Immigration Center in Queens doesn't typically process work-related requests, but the center's lawyer, John Stahl, pointed out that undocumented workers have equal employment rights.
“If you do a day’s work in this country, you’re entitled to get paid. It’s not an immigration issue, it’s a work issue,” Stahl said.
Under the 2011 Memorandum of Understanding between the Departments of Homeland Security and Department of Labor (DOL), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) must refrain from engaging in enforcement activities at a worksite subject to a DOL investigation. Moreover, the report specifies that ICE can only intervene in cases concerning “a federal crime other than a violation relating to unauthorized employment.”
“The city would come to a standstill if government enforced deportations or ICE investigations rigorously,” said O’Malley. “A person can also claim sanction under the 1996 Cancellation of Deportation law, if they’ve been in the U.S. for 10 years and have at least one immediate family member who’s American”.
Paul, 32, who lives with Sean, also came to New York a decade ago on a holiday visa. Paul said that he originally started working for an Irishman who owned his own construction business, which he later merged with a big Manhattan-based contractor.
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