By Ray O’Hanlon
An Immigration and Naturalization document linked to the McAllister family political asylum case indicates that the federal agency does not believe that the gun attack on the family’s home in Belfast was entirely unexpected.
And, at one point, the document seems to suggest that the McAllister parents, Malachy and Bernadette, fled to Spain for personal safety while leaving their children behind in the family’s Belfast home just before it was attacked.
Attorneys for the family obtained the document under the Freedom of Information Act. It is an assessment of the family’s case drawn up by INS agents following an interview with Bernadette McAllister in May, 1997.
Bernadette, her husband Malachy and the couple’s four children, Gary, Jaime, Nicola and Sean are attempting to secure political asylum in the U.S. They claim that their lives would be in danger if they were forced to return to Northern Ireland.
The latest hearing in the case took place recently at a federal court in Newark, N.J.
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In the INS document, entitled "Assessment/Referral Memo," an interviewing officer writes that Malachy and Bernadette had left for a "sudden" vacation in Spain on Oct. 1, 1988.
The McAllister home was attacked the following day by masked men. In the house at the time were Bernadette’s mother and the four McAllister children, one of them just 11 months old. The attack, according to the RUC, was carried out by UVF gunmen.
The INS document, at this juncture, appears to imply that the McAllisters had left their children in harm’s way hours before the attack.
The document reads in part: "When applicant (Bernadette) was questioned more closely about her reasons for going to Spain her testimony suddenly lacked detail. She would not give any further explanation, other than to say Malachy had just finished a construction job. We did not hear applicant had suddenly come into money.
"October, in Ireland, is not normally a month when its inhabitants on an impulse seek warmer weather. We did not hear any of the personal, idiosyncratic details which might have been expected from this incident of family life, although we asked for them. We conclude the haste of their departure was not characteristic of a vacation, but of sudden departure taken for the sake of personal safety."
However, further along in the document, the INS officer writing the report seems to accept that the attack on the McAllister house was a genuine attempt to cause injury or death.
"The 1988 attack on applicant’s house is a serious incident. Did it constitute ‘past persecution’ within the meaning of applicable asylum law? Neither applicant nor her husband were home at the time. Property damage was minimal. The event must have terrified the children and their grandmother, but there is no showing this was done as ‘punishment’ for any political opinion or religious orientation the children or the grandmother might have held. Attackers found out their targets were not there, vented their anger, and left. Ms. Robinson, the children’s grandmother is still in Northern Ireland. We are not advised she ever attempted to flee. This would suggest that the grandmother, too, understood the alleged persecution was not directed against her, but against applicant or applicant’s spouse.
"Of the two possibilities, is (sic) seems probable the action was directed against applicant’s spouse, rather than against applicant and the children. He was the one who put his beliefs into action by assaulting police and eventually trying to kill one."
Reacting to the document, Bernadette McAllister said she found "sickening" the implication in it that she had left her children exposed to a gun attack.
"They imply that I asked the UVF to shoot up my house with my kids in it. Do they think I’m some kind of animal? I can’t believe the INS would believe that I could run away and leave my kids in a situation like that," she told the Echo.
The judge in the McAllister case, meanwhile, will issue a decision on Jan. 4. Attorneys for the McAllisters have two months to respond to INS arguments that Malachy McAllister’s INLA-related conviction was not a political offense, that the family are U.K. not Irish citizens and that they entered the U.S. illegally.