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.
“I’ve been here for almost 11 years,” said Paul, “and no-one in my situation that’s in my circle, or my friend’s circle, has been targeted.”
Paul, who works as a carpenter, estimated that he gets paid $25-30 an hour. Large construction companies, which generate approximately $150 million a year, negotiate wages with relevant unions.
The General Contractors Association of New York oversees 13 different trade-specific construction unions, and fixes hourly wages between $30-60, dependent on the worker’s skill level. Unionized carpenters typically make $40-45 an hour without benefits. With union membership fees taken into account, Paul earns slightly less in real terms than his documented counterparts.
On a recent day, several Irishmen watching a Gaelic football match in the Cuckoos Nest pub in Queens openly admitted to being undocumented.
“It’s the kind of thing you leave people alone with,” said George, Sean’s 26-year-old friend from Dublin
“They like us, so they tolerate us. And we try to avoid rocking the boat. It has a lot to do with people in the right places turning a blind eye.”
Despite the seemingly easy task of getting work, and the insular, protective nature of the Irish community, Sean predicted that he wouldn’t stay in New York for long.
“I don’t think making more money than other undocumented groups makes us successful,” said Sean.
“We’ve no representation and I’ve yet to meet an Irishman who’s not in construction or bar work. And it’s unfortunate how a lot of Irish in these communities like Queens still only eat Kerrygold butter.”