Donald Trump’s election was a shock to those working on behalf of the Irish immigrant community and particularly the 50,000 Irish undocumented who were hoping that a Hillary Clinton presidency would finally legalize the Irish.
Those dreams are firmly on the back burner now that Trump, who vowed to carry out deportations during his campaign, will assume the presidency in January. And though there is fear in the community over what a Trump presidency will mean for the undocumented and a future flow of legal Irish into the U.S., long-time immigration advocates are vowing to continue the fight for reform.
“Immigration has always been a primary issue for the Ancient Order of Hibernians and it will remain that way,” Dan Dennehy, the AOH’s national immigration chairman, told the Irish Voice.
“We’re going to keep talking about it with legislators and keep the dialogue open. You never know, maybe we might have some allies that we didn’t know we had. We’re not going to give up.”
Dennehy also spoke of the importance of the Irish immigration centers in the U.S. throughout this time of uncertainty.
“Thank God we have them so that people have a place that they can contact to express their concerns,” he said. “The centers will be vital going forward, to ensure that help is there when needed.”
Ciaran Staunton, chairman of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, says that all hope is not lost, and that the undocumented Irish aren’t under immediate threat of deportation.
"We would like to emphasize that Donald Trump himself has said that he wants U.S. authorities to focus on undocumented immigrants who have criminal records, not those without criminal records,” Staunton said in a statement.
“We must not scare and cause unnecessary concern in our community with false and sensationalized headlines. We all have responsibility to report the truth and provide our community with real updates on what is happening.
"While we are all concerned with many of President-elect Trump's statements on immigration during his campaign, we urge people not make any rash decisions or live in fear of a knock on the door. We will keep a close eye on events as they progress in Washington.”
Orla Kelleher, executive director of the Aisling Irish Center in Yonkers, hasn’t noticed a large upsurge in the number of calls the center fields since Trump’s victory, but concern is definitely high among the local Irish.
“A lot of people are worried, definitely,” she told the Irish Voice. “We are urging everyone to take a common sense approach, to wait until the dust settles to see where we are at. No one knows now.”
What particularly alarms Kelleher is the rise in anti-immigrant rhetoric that Trump’s presidency has already ushered in, she says.
“We’ve heard of children as young as seven or eight, telling Hispanic and Muslim children in school that they’re going to have to leave the country now. It’s very worrying to have children that young think like that,” Kelleher said.
Siohban Dennehy, executive director of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center in Queens and the Bronx, says the centers are aware of the trepidation in the community. The Emerald Isle is urging caution “while everyone digests the news and its impact,” Dennehy told the Irish Voice.
“We don’t have tangibles or concrete details yet, so we don’t know where this is going. It’s of course on our radar and we plan to be ready.”
Dennehy says the center has fielded calls from concerned Americans wanting information on obtaining Irish citizenship. “We’ve had a few calls about that. They’re looking to see what’s required and we’re giving them the information,” she said.
The Irish Voice reached out to two long-term undocumented Irish immigrants for comment on Trump’s election. Both are worried about their futures here and fearful of speaking on or off the record.
“It’s a lot to take in, a lot of shock,” one said.