As they prepare to make the most of Christmas in New York, several undocumented living in Yonkers and Woodlawn in the Bronx spoke to the Irish Voice about the sadness associated with being away from family this time of the year.
Because all those interviewed are undocumented, names have been changed for the purpose of this article.
Louise, 38, and her 40-year-old husband Shane are about to spend their eighth Christmas away from their family back in Co. Donegal.
“Another Christmas away is just terrible,” Louise, a bartender, shared.
“It’s getting harder all the time. Our parents are getting old and we’re missing so many special events like another Christmas, not to mention several weddings and christenings.”
Her husband Shane agrees, but says being realistic they can’t move home at the moment because “there is no work” in Ireland.
“The Irish government is doing a good job of keeping the young people out of Ireland,” said Shane, a construction worker.
Veronica, 30, and her husband of three years Martin, 31, are both from Co. Kerry. They have two American-born children. They are also about to spend their eighth Christmas in New York.
“We haven’t been home in eight years and it’s very hard being away from family all the time but especially at Christmas, and of course it’s very hard for them not having us at home either,” shared Veronica, who cares for the elderly.
“Christmas is all about family, everyone meeting and spending time together.”
Martin, who owns his own construction firm, said, “We’ll never get back the years we have missed with family, but hope to be home some day. Our kids have never seen Ireland so we can’t wait for the day to bring them back to meet grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles.”
A visitor from Ireland this Christmas will ease the pain a little, though, for this Kerry family.
“This year my mom comes for Christmas. It’s our first Christmas together in eight years so we are very excited Nana is coming to New York,” said Veronica.
Tara, 37, is from Co. Sligo. She has been living in New York for 12 years and hasn’t set foot on Irish soil in seven.
Like those previously interviewed, Tara associates Christmas with spending quality time with family.
“Christmas away from home has become an event to dread here in New York, a non-event and one that I sadly hope will be over and done with as soon as possible,” said Tara, an office worker.
This, however, is Tara’s final Christmas without family.
“I'm planning to move back to Ireland in the next year unless a miracle of a green card arrives from Santa Claus, and at this stage it’s not looking like it but I can always live in hope,” she said.
This year for Tara will be extra difficult. Her mother had major surgery only seven weeks ago and she is devastated that she can’t be there to help her recover.
“My mother is still in hospital and not getting any younger, and therefore it’s really important to go home and spend time with her when we can all enjoy each other’s company,” said Tara sadly.
The recession in Ireland may be preventing many undocumented from moving back to Ireland, but
Tara said it isn’t all smooth sailing here either.
“Since the recession here too times have been harder. It’s harder to get a job and every day just seems more of a challenge,” she said.
Eibhlis, 39, and Martin, 35, have been living in the shadows in New York for more than a decade.
Eibhlis, from Cork, has been here for 15 years and her husband from Northern Ireland for 12. They have two children who have never met many of their family members back home.
“Being away from home for Christmas is very sad and lonely for us. We wish our kids could meet and spend time with our families back home,” said Eibhlis, a stay at home mom.
The most difficult part, said Eibhlis, is when the kids ask her why they can’t go back to Ireland.
“Don’t get me wrong, it’s our decision to be here but sometimes it feels like we’re in prison,” added the mom.
Martin, a construction worker, said that although “no one is making us stay” it’s the best place for their children right now despite missing out on so many family events.
“We pray this Christmas that someday these politicians will do something for the millions of immigrants that love this country so much and give back to the economy every day,” said Martin.
“We are willing sometimes to sacrifice our own happiness to stay in the country that we have grown to love.”
Similar to Tara, Eibhlis recently got a sad call from home.
“It’s very hard hearing about someone in your family dying and you can’t be there,” said Eibhlis.
“The guilt just eats you up.”
Eibhlis and Martin will make the most of Christmas in New York. They will make a big deal of Santa for their children and do their best to disguise their sadness on December 25.
Peter, 26, is single and dreads the Christmas celebrations. “I’ve been living in New York for the past six years illegally,” Peter told the Irish Voice.
A bartender by trade, Peter will work through the holidays to get him through it.
“I’d prefer to be behind the bar than sitting at home alone thinking about all my sisters, brothers and parents chilling out at our family home,” said Peter, who hails from Co. Galway.
This year is extra difficult for Peter because his first niece was born last week.
“Being honest, I thought about chancing going home but it isn’t worth it in the long run if I get stopped coming back because there is no work at all in Ireland,” he said.
“There are so many lads I know out here who have nowhere to go this Christmas than the bar.
They have plenty of money but it doesn’t matter a bit without having people you care about around the place.”
Last year Peter’s friend at home took his own life at Christmas because he lost his job, and the Galway man fears the same sort of feelings exist here in New York.
“I’m always saying to some of my buddies to talk it out because Christmas is a very lonely time here as an immigrant,” he said.
“My advice to anyone is to meet up with friends this Christmas Day and don’t spend it alone, or come to visit me at the bar,” he says smiling.