In the coming weeks, President Obama is expected sign an executive order on immigration that could legalize millions, including some of the 50,000 undocumented Irish with long-term lives and established families in America. This would change lives all over America and reunite families all over the world.
Here is how it would affect one undocumented Irishman, aged 41, who has lived in New York City for 21 years. He has a wife and three children.
He says he is desperately hoping for Obama’s executive action, which would benefit the undocumented with established roots in America like himself. “I’m optimistic, but I’ve been optimistic before,” he added.
“People don’t realize what that would do. It would change my life 100%. If people had to walk in my shoes for a month, they’d understand why it’s so important for people like me.
“I don’t have a life here. I get by and I survive. It is what it is. But it would be a life-changing situation for me – just to be able to go out in the morning, get in the car and drive my son to a birthday party or to a football game. Just the simple things that people take for granted – it’s precious to me.”
“People shouldn’t be so scared of what’s going to happen. We’re just common people. I think there are a lot of fear mongers out there who are putting this down – but yet again, they’re probably living beside somebody that’s in this situation.
“Their best friend, their neighbor, people they work with every day. They go out and have drinks after work with people who may be in this situation. I’m sure a lot of people don’t know I’m in it, because I keep it to myself.”
Born in Co. Donegal, he came to New York at age 20, just after finishing college.
“I was only 20 – I had just finished school and wanted to travel around, like any other college kid trying to decide what to do, or what the future was.”
Like many other Irish people, he immediately fell in love with New York City. “And I haven’t left since,” he said.
“But my intention when I came here was not to end up in the situation I am today,” he said. “That wasn’t my intention.”
He worked in a bar before beginning his long career in construction.
“My career is stagnant,” he said. “It is what it is. You can’t really move on.”
One of the bigger issues he’s faced is his inability to acquire a driver’s license. He says he has to take a taxi wherever he goes, including bringing his kids to soccer games and birthday parties.
“I’m a married man with three children, and I can’t get a license. Everywhere I go it’s taxis – when they go to parties or when they have to go to the doctor’s. It’s been a major hassle trying to get around New York.”
“There’s a big fear of interior traveling. My oldest child is eleven and he has never been on a family vacation because of the situation. We don’t want to take that chance of traveling.
“And people ask him, 'Why does your daddy always bring you everywhere in a taxi? Why can’t he drive?' It just gets a little bit tough and embarrassing after a while.”
The struggles only get worse when he recalls all he’s missed at home in Donegal – 21 years’ worth of births and deaths, weddings and illnesses.
He has six sisters; five have gotten married, and he’s had to miss each wedding.
“I only have one [unmarried] sister left, and I’m hoping she’ll hold on until I get a chance to come.”
“There are five weddings I haven’t been to, and my mother and father were recently married for 50 years and had a big anniversary, and I didn’t get to travel to that.
“Since I’ve been over here I’ve had uncles and grandparents who have passed away, and I have never gone to any one of their funerals. Any major thing that’s happened in my family’s life in the last 21 years I’ve missed.
“I have nephews and nieces that I’ve never met or seen except for photographs. I’ve missed it all. That’s stuff that you’ll never get back,” he said.
He sent his two eldest, who are now 11 and 10, to Donegal a couple of years ago to meet their cousins and see where their dad comes from. He wanted to have been able to show them himself, but didn’t see it as a possibility.
Most neighborhoods would certainly be different without the thousands of undocumented who’ve worked tirelessly to make ends meet here – those who bring some truth to phrase “home of the brave.”
“21 years is a long time to miss so many family things,” he said. “My fingers are crossed.”