By Patrick Markey and Harry Keaney
For four years Peter lived the undocumented life.
A graduate from Queens University, the 26-year-old Belfast native worked hard in a construction job and bar work. He was lucky, he meet the right people and was rarely out work.
But after succeeding in the illegal job market, and settling in Boston, Peter has moved on. From shifting wallboard for a living, he’s now makes his money watching other people’s as a fund manager for a local bank.
Peter’s case is a test ground for a waiver option for those who are looking to change their undocumented status and set aside the 10-year ban that many Irish illegal immigrants face. Now married to an American citizen, Peter has employment authorization, and will have an interview for a green card this week.
"This is the first case that we are aware of that an immigrant will be going through the process and asking the three- and 10-year bars to be set aside," said Kieran O’Sullivan of the Boston Irish Immigration Center.
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Undocumented immigrants who have overstayed for more than a year face a 10-year ban on reentering the U.S. under the 1996 immigration laws. Peter’s lawyer will argue that his wife will face extreme hardship if he is forced to leave.
A successful INS interview would bring him full circle.
Peter came to the United States two weeks after graduating from Queens University with an undergraduate degree in economics. He had visited the U.S. before to play football and was keen to return.
"I always wanted to come back to the United States just to see if I could do well here," he said. "I always thought there was more money and opportunity here if you worked hard."
Like many who fell out of legal status, Peter thought he would only stay for a year. But slowly, the work opportunities and new life persuaded him to settle. With contacts made through his local football team, he secured a home, and employment. He always worked two jobs, one in construction and the other in a local bar.
But always he had nagging concerns over the uncertainty of his legal status and the dependence on daily work. A day lost to illness meant no pay. And serious illness could mean the loss of years of savings.
"I was very lucky I never really got sick. And if I was ever out of work, the football team would pay a few days’ wages for me," he said. "But you always had to look after yourself."
Peter’s shift to white collar employment has brought subtle changes in lifestyle.
"It feels good. It’s not like when your in construction and you miss a day, you don’t get paid. It was strange sitting down in the same place for all that time. It’s a corporate cultural shock," he said.
With an opportunity now to establish legal status, Peter is hoping his lawyer’s best-case scenario will turn out to be true: The interview will lead to a green card and the chance for a normal life in the U.S.