Category: Archive

Immigration at the Millennium Stark choices for those trapped in the twilight zone

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Harry Keaney and Patrick Markey

Sarah is one of 5 million. But she doesn’t feel that special.

Part of America’s legion of undocumented immigrants, the 25-year-old Irish woman living in Boston has a job, a place to stay and a circle of friends. But after one Christmas and a New Year’s without her family at home, Sarah is wrestling with doubts over where her future lies.

Sarah arrived in the United States on a temporary visa in May 1998. Without proper papers, she has not traveled back to Ireland in almost 18 months. Fearful of the harsh punishments meted out to those who overstay visas or who work without documentation, she has decided not to risk returning home.

Those penalties, she says, have forced her to weigh her precarious situation. The balance has tipped in America’s favor. For now, she will stay in Boston.

"There’s not much chance, you’re really just caught in the middle. You have to make that big decision," she said.

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"I’ll have to wait and see. It’s one of the hardest decisions I’ve made just in terms of seeing the family, especially on the holidays."

Immigration advocates estimate as many as 5,000 illegal Irish immigrants live in the Boston area where Sarah has settled. Life for these twilight visitors has darkened since the introduction of the immigration bans.

But for Sarah, and others like her, the decision to drop section 245(i) — which had allowed them to adjust their immigration status while living in the United States — has made life even more uncertain.

"I meet three or four people a week who are in my situation," she said.

Back in her home, County Cork, there are opportunities. But for Sarah, America offers more educational opportunities, and lower taxes.

"I know they’re talking about the Celtic Tiger in Ireland. But back home, the taxes are high. At the end of the week, there’s not much left out of the pay," Sarah said.

With a secondary education, and experience working in a department store in Ireland, Sarah has managed to find work as a manager in a Boston clothing store. Her employer, although aware of the risks, is willing to let her work despite her undocumented status.

Although she has settled into Boston, Sarah said the threat of the IIMIR Act of 1996 penalties casts a long shadow over her life. It was a situation of which she was not fully aware until after she arrived in the United States.

"I know they have to have rules, but 10 years seems a little unfair," she said. "I didn’t know the full story, but as I’ve stayed I’ve got to learn more.

"Right now I have a life here, but if you can’t leave the country, it’s very difficult. There is a lot of uncertainty about your future because you can’t make long-term plans."

(Sarah is an assumed name. The subject of this interview requested anonymity.)

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