John Cunningham. RTÉ

A leading Irish figure in the Boston community has been arrested and held for deportation in a move that has shocked the Irish community in the city and prompted renewed fears that President Donald Trump’s administration is determined to deport as many undocumented as possible.

John Cunningham, 38, the former chairman of the Boston Northeast GAA, was arrested at his home in the city last Friday by immigration officials.

Cunningham, a native of Glencolmcille, Co. Donegal, has been living in the U.S. since 1999 and has not been back in Ireland in 16 years. He was prominently featured in an RTÉ program called “The Undocumented” in March when he discussed living as an undocumented resident.

Cunningham was arrested for “immigration violations,” a spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told The Irish Times.

He entered the country lawfully under the visa waiver program, but failed to depart in compliance with the terms of the waiver.

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The spokesman, Khalid Walls, also stated that, “Cunningham is currently in ICE custody pending removal from the United States. Visa waiver program participants waive their rights to a hearing before an immigration judge and they are subject to mandatory detention.”

Cunningham is being held at the South Bay House of Correction, part of the Suffolk County jail system.

The Irish community in Boston is deeply fearful that Cunningham’s arrest and detention marks a new phase in the crackdown by the Trump administration against undocumented immigrants.

Ronnie Millar, executive director of the Irish International Immigration Center, said the center’s phones have not stopped ringing since the arrest.

“People are very, very concerned,” he told The Irish Times.

“People are lying low, trying to keep under the radar screen. They are preparing family readiness plans in case the mother or father gets picked up. This has caused widespread concern.”

During his RTÉ interview in March, Cunningham said that his time passed quickly in the U.S. and that he always remained hopeful that a change in the immigration laws would eventually result in a path to legalization.

 

“You have to keep hoping that something will change and I think eventually something will have to because sooner or later some party is going to have to look at immigration and say we’ve got to figure out an avenue to make this work,” he said.