By Ray O’Hanlon
A surprise ruling by a federal immigration judge has given Belfast man Malachy McAllister a renewed chance of a life in the United States.
Judge Henry Dogin last week postponed making a decision in the case until October.
The decision means that McAllister will be technically eligible for political asylum in the U.S. when the decision is eventually handed down.
Under U.S. law, an applicant is denied a chance of pleading for asylum within 15 years of being released from a prison in another country.
McAllister, a former member of the Irish National Liberation Army, served prison time in Northern Ireland but 15 years will have elapsed since his release on Sept. 30.
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"This is very good for us and a very big relief," said McAllister’s attorney, Diane George.
"It doesn’t mean that the judge is in any way predisposed, but it is a victory of sorts," she said.
The decision followed a week of testimony in the federal immigration court in Newark, N.J.
Witnesses called by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which is pressing the deportation proceedings against McAllister, were Prof. Paul Wilkinson of Aberdeen University and Col. Hayes Parks of the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General’s office.
Witnesses for the defense included author J. Bowyer Bell and author and Irish Echo journalist Jack Holland.
Holland is widely viewed as being an authority on the INLA, having co-authored a book on the organization.
Last week’s decision was not the first by Judge Dogin to raise eyebrows.
Earlier this year, he ruled that McAllister was a British national despite his conviction for membership of the INLA.
Attorney George, who was severely critical of the judge’s ruling at the time, said that she now views that decision as being more of a technical one on the judge’s part.
Meanwhile, Judge Dogin’s decision to delay any verdict until October means that the McAllisters will now face the court as a single family again.
Malachy’s wife, Bernadette, and the couple’s four children were never precluded from seeking asylum. Following Judge Dogin’s decision to delay his decision, all five McAllisters will be able to plead for asylum together.
The actual hearing in Newark has been adjourned until the week beginning Aug. 15. When it resumes, a number of defense witnesses are expected to be called.
The McAllisters fled Belfast after loyalist gunmen attacked their home in the Lower Ormeau area in October 1988.