Last Friday, one Northern Irish family welcomed President Obama’s announcement which will see his administration stop deportations and grant work permits for qualified undocumented young adults currently living in the U.S.
“I was in shock,” says Malachy McAllister, whose two youngest children, Sean Ryan, 24, and Nicole, 26, stand to benefit from the new policy.
McAllister and his family fled Belfast in 1988 after a Loyalist attack on their family home. They first traveled to Canada to seek asylum before coming to the U.S. and settling in Rutherford, New Jersey, where they still reside.
“I didn’t expect it after so many let downs,” he told the Irish Voice. “It is an immensely important move.”
“We are filling in the blanks to see what does it mean and what the next steps are.”
Both Sean Ryan and Nicole were infants when the family left Belfast after a dissident attack on their home on the Lower Ormeau Road.
“We have been in America for over 16 years,” McAllister said.
The family has been fighting a deportation order for the last decade. Last March they were granted another year’s relief from deportation after an intervention by New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, who described the McAllisters as integral members of the New Jersey community.
“They (Sean Ryan and Nicole) grew up here; they really don’t have any association with anyone from Belfast or Northern Ireland,” McAllister said. “They don’t know any other country, they have never been outside of here.”
While McAllister’s eldest son Gary is a citizen, in 2009 his second oldest son Mark James, known as Jamie to friends and family, was deported to Ireland because of a prior offense when he was a teenager. Now Sean Ryan and Nicole are hopeful they may be able to see their brother again.
“There is a possibility that they would be able to travel home to see their brother in the future,” says McAllister.
McAllister’s son Sean works alongside his father as a contractor in the city and Nicole is studying to become a nurse in Felician College. Raising the children without any status has been difficult, McAllister admits, especially after his wife Bernadette died of cancer in 2004.
“My daughter has been going to nursing school and I have been providing to try and put her through college so she can help others,” McAllister said.
“We still have issues trying to obtain simple things such as getting their driving licenses and opening bank accounts.”
To those who oppose Obama’s new policy, McAllister says the immigrants who will benefit are already contributing to American society.
“The fact is these children are here. For the most part the majority of them are working and paying taxes,” he added.
Eamonn Dornan, the family’s attorney, welcomed the move.
“Sean Ryan and Nicole meet all the criteria as set out in the latest memorandum from the Secretary of Homeland Security,” Dornan said in a statement.
“They have had a final deportation order hanging over their heads for a decade, but deporting them would have made no moral, humanitarian or economic sense."
“They had no intent to violate any immigration laws when they arrived in the U.S. as children, and they have resided here ever since. Both have graduated from high school; Nicole has since graduated with a bachelor of science in nursing, and Sean Ryan has gone into business with his father.”
Some 800,000 undocumented people are expected to benefit from the policy that will see them receive deferred action from deportation. Undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. under the age of 16 and have lived in the U.S. for more than five years can apply for relief, once they are under the age of 30.
Eligible students must currently be in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or be an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the U.S.
While McAllister acknowledges this is an important move for his children, it does little to help his plight.
“Obviously I am still in the same boat, it doesn’t solve anything for the undocumented,” reflects McAllister. “But it’s a step in the right direction.”