“We are not unmindful of the enormous tasks faced by Homeland Security but surely there is no need whatsoever to deport this good man merely because his religious worker visa has expired,” said Jack Meehan in reference to Fr. Gallagher, a Columban missionary originally from Gweedore but who now lives and works in the small South Dakota town of De Smet and serves three parishes in the area.
Meehan noted in a statement the AOH’s long support of the Columban Missionary Society and he asked President Bush and Michael Chertoff, the nation’s homeland security chief, to remove any threat of deportation while the priest’s paperwork, now in its seventh year of processing, was being considered.
“We join the voices of 80,000 Hibernians with those of Senators Thune and Johnson and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network to grant Fr. Gallagher’s petition for permanent resident status,” Meehan said in reference to South Dakota’s Senate members who are supporting Fr. Gallagher’s effort to remain in South Dakota.
While acknowledging the current immigration enforcement problems facing the country, Meehan wrote that the Hibernians we believed that Fr. Gallagher’s missionary work overseas and ten years of service to parishioners in rural South Dakota deserved special consideration and clemency.
“He has done everything requested of him in terms of documentation and paperwork but the bureaucracy is either too burdened with paperwork, or has great difficulty in distinguishing problematic cases with those whose only ‘problem’ has been the ravages of time,” the letter to President Bush stated.
The standoff between Fr. Gallagher, his parishioners and the immigration system was the subject of a hearing in Lincoln, Nebraska, last week.
Lincoln is the location of the nearest offices of the immigration authorities to De Smet, a small town in eastern South Dakota made famous by author Laura Ingalls Wilder whose written works inspired the “Little House on the Prairie” television series.
Fr. Gallagher’s presence in the country has been on the basis of a religious worker’s visa. But with that now expired, and his permanent residence application rejected, he faces an unwilling exit from the U.S. as early as July 1.
The reason for the rejection is that the Department of Homeland Security’s office of Citizenship and Immigration Services decided that somewhere along the line, Fr. Gallagher’s legal status had lapsed for a period of a few weeks.
“The decision in my case can’t be appealed but the immigration authorities can pick up my case and reopen and reevaluate it,” said Fr. Gallagher, who is 58 and was ordained a Columban missionary in Ireland in 1974.
Fr. Gallagher was told to expect word from the meeting in Lincoln within seven days.
That meeting was held on Monday, June 9. As of presstime Tuesday, however, he said he had not heard word one way or the other.