Braving the rain and cold on a dreary Monday evening, a decent-sized crowd made their way to St. Barnabas High School in Woodlawn to hear what the Obama executive order on immigration means for their futures in the U.S.
By the time the session began the room was about half full, with 80-odd people in attendance. The informational talk was given by a panel made up of representatives of various Irish immigration centers in New York, including the Aisling Center and the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, as well as representatives from law firms well-versed in immigration policy. The event was moderated by Irish Consul General Barbara Jones.
Given that Obama’s executive order will grant a reprieve to undocumented parents of U.S. citizen children, it was no surprise that the crowd was made up of mainly mothers with young children. The faint gurgling of babies and cries of “mammy” from toddlers was a constant in the low din of the crowd before the event began.
The crowd was friendly and familiar with each other, but there was an underlying nervousness. Speaking with a few members of the audience throughout the evening, horror stories abounded: of lost jobs and houses, of terrifying encounters with landlords and employers who took advantage of their undocumented status and of the constant fear of being deported.
One woman, who preferred not to be named, spoke of her arduous journey to date. Her experiences in the United States over the past 20-odd years reads like a laundry list of the worst abuse undocumented immigrants can face here, from the common problem of not having a driver’s license and finding it difficult to get work, to the more serious problems of losing her home and not having protection under the law from an abusive partner.
As the mother of two children, she said, Obama’s order could change her life. This is true for many others who gathered at St. Barnabas.
One of the most pressing concerns for the crowd gathered on Monday was the ability to travel back to Ireland. Many undocumented have ailing parents and relatives and for them, missing yet another funeral back home due to their status, is too much to bear.
A wave of unhappy murmurs greeted the news that it would be at least a year before they could travel to Ireland under the U.S. immigration provision known as advance parole. A silver lining came from the Consul General, who stressed that the Irish government would push for the absolute maximum in travel rights for Irish people who are able to take advantage of advance parole.
Questions were raised about what would happen if the next president chose to rescind Obama’s executive order, and the consensus among the panel was that it will be extremely difficult for the next president to take back what has already been given.
The status of the single, the childless and the gay undocumented has yet to be resolved, and Jones stressed that the Irish government will continue to advocate and lobby for those who will not benefit from the Obama move.
What was stressed time and again by the panel was that, although details are currently vague, now is the time for the undocumented Irish to gather the evidence to prove they have the required five years of residency in America and that they they were in the country on November 20 of this year. It is also time get identity documents in order, particularly those that are proof of relationship to their U.S. citizen or permanent resident child.
Consternation over the lack of concrete details was evident in the questioning and exasperation of some audience members. The message to take away from the meeting was to get documents in order for May, when the application period is expected to open, and to seek legal aid if there is anything, from minor traffic offenses or questions of paternity, which might hinder an applicant from securing a visa.
As people filtered down the chapel after the meeting, the faint murmurs of the gathered crowd were just that bit more positive and hopeful than they had been at the start of the night.
Irish centers throughout the U.S. will continue to hold public meetings on the Obama executive order, especially as more details become available.