According to McAliskey’s daughter Deirdre, her mother was threatened with arrest, jail and even being shot, by the officials.
McAliskey, from Coalisland, Co. Tyrone, flew to the U.S. last Friday after passing through U.S. immigration successfully with Deirdre at Dublin airport. The five-day trip was a surprise visit to see friends in New York and to attend a christening.
At O’Hare Airport, the two were collecting their luggage when an INS official approached, calling out McAliskey’s name.
“Mummy was taken to an interview room,” Deirdre McAliskey said on Sunday in New York, still visibly shaken by the experience.
“When I got to her, she was already angry and distressed. [The official] asked if she had ever been arrested and she said she had a 1969 conviction for rioting, but that she had been told by the U.S. consulate that that would have expired in 1989 after 20 years, and that she didn’t need a visa.”
Deirdre McAliskey said that she and her mother were horrified at their treatment by INS officials.
“One said to her, ‘If you contradict me one more time, I am going to slam cuffs on you and haul your ass to jail,'” she said.
Two officers, one whom the daughter said was surnamed Squires, threatened to jail the famously outspoken republican activist who is 56 and has visited the U.S. on speaking tours many times since the start of the Troubles.
Said Deirdre: “The other guy had a name like Fenton, and he said to mummy: ‘If I were you, I wouldn’t upset my boss, because I saw him fire a shot at a Russian guy last week and the bullet whizzed past my head. He’s the kind of man who would do that and he has the authority.'”
“I asked Squires on what basis the decision was made and he said that he didn’t have to tell us. Then he said he would tell us anyway. The decision was based on a State Department review of her file and she was determined a ‘real threat to the U.S.’ “He told me that the fax came from the country of origin. To consider her a threat is outrageous.”
The younger McAliskey was told she was free to return home or continue her journey in the U.S. She and her mother decided that it was best if she went to New York and told Bernadette’s friends and colleagues what had happened.
Over the years, Bernadette McAliskey has been awarded the freedom of New York and San Francisco and many other peace awards.
After her contentious interview with the INS, she was told that she would be fingerprinted and photographed and then sent back to Ireland.
“She was told that they would do this with her consent or by force,” said Deirdre McAliskey, who added that her mother is not in the best of health and had complained an hour before their plane that she was fatigued and that her legs were hurting.
McAliskey was a witness to the Bloody Sunday massacre in 1972 and she and her husband were seriously injured in an assassination attempt by loyalist paramilitaries in 1981.
The family has said that they have lodged a formal complaint with the U.S. embassy in Dublin and that they are seeking legal counsel.
New York attorney Eamonn Dornan, experienced in dealing with immigration cases, said that he had been consulted “informally” about the case.
He said he was not sure how McAliskey should proceed, because “there’s legally no way to challenge this particular refusal.” He continued: “It will have to be a challenge on the political side,” referring to the possibility of friends and supporters of McAliskey putting pressure on the State Department.
“It has always been the case that anyone who enters on the green I-94 visa waiver form has no right to a hearing before an immigration judge,” Dornan said, referring to the document that all tourist visitors to the U.S. must fill in.
New electronic surveillance used by the State Department and the INS is “bringing about results like this,” he said. “Someone gets on a plane and leaves for the U.S. Fifteen minutes later, information goes to the INS or State Department and when the person arrives, they are not allowed to enter the country.”
Speaking through her daughter, McAliskey said she wanted to warn all Irish people who might be traveling to the U.S. for St. Patrick’s Day to think carefully about their trip, because “this is how you can expect to be treated by the Bush regime.”
Many friends and supporters of McAliskey have expressed their anger and frustration about the incident. Former gunrunner and republican activist George Harrison said that McAliskey was to have visited him in Brooklyn. He attacked the INS for preventing her from entering the U.S. with strong words: “Like a soul afire, the contempt I feel for the despots who prevented this revolutionary flower from seeing me is matched by the respect I have for her and her brave and noble kind, both living and dead.”
A U.S. Embassy spokesperson refused to speak about the case, saying that the embassy did not comment on individual cases.