By Ray O’Hanlon
Disappointment is hardly the word that describes it for the McAllister family.
The family, Malachy, Bernadette and their four children, were hoping against hope that President Clinton would sign an order allowing them to remain in the United States before he left office last weekend.
But in between the financiers, the old friends and even a onetime terrorist or two, there was apparently no room for the McAllisters of New Jersey via Belfast on the departing president’s pardon list.
Non-inclusion on the list now leaves the McAllisters caught between a past they are desperate to escape and a future that appears certain to be dominated by the actions of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and an incoming Bush administration that, on the surface at least, harbors few positive sentiments on the issue of Irish deportees in general, and the McAllisters in particular.
"It’s been a rough month. President Clinton had the opportunity to sweep it all away but he didn’t," Malachy McAllister told the Echo Tuesday.
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In the run up to Clinton administration’s departure from Washington, Attorney General Janet Reno had been lobbied by a number of members of Congress on behalf of the McAllisters.
A letter, jointly authored by Reps. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Joe Crowley of New York, was sent to Reno on Jan. 8.
"We are writing to express our disappointment with the INS’ treatment of Malachy McAllister," the letter, co-signed by a dozen other Democratic and Republican House members stated.
"The McAllisters fled Northern Ireland after paramilitary terrorists fired 26 shots into their home, narrowly missing one or more members of the family. The immigration judge found that the McAllisters suffered ‘extreme persecution.’ Most observers agree that the McAllisters could very likely face further physical threats if they were to return," the letter stated.
"In the name of peace and humanity, we respectfully urge you to suspend deportation proceedings against Malachy McAllister, as well as stop any effort to appeal the political asylum granted to the McAllister family," the letter concluded.
Though the McAllisters clearly have friends on Capitol Hill, Malachy is now expressing the hope that his family will receive greater grassroots support in the tri-state area Irish American community.
A onetime member of the Irish National Liberation Army, McAllister has been an active supporter of Friends of Sinn Féin in recent times and is on record as a supporter of the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland.
At the same time, he does not feel that his family’s cause has been given quite the attention it deserves by Sinn Féin’s U.S. base.
"Our case has exposed how the British government and security forces engaged in persecution and collusion, but at times it seems to me that Sinn Féin doesn’t really see the case as being important. A few years ago, it would have been," McAllister said.
"Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland should show that they are for everyone and that should be reflected over here."
But if McAllister is frustrated over his position, that frustration reaches a new height when his wife and children are mentioned.
"The Clinton administration should at least have stopped the [INS] appeal against asylum being gratned to Bernadette and the children. We feel isolated and alone now," he said.