By Harry Keaney
As a university student, Pat Hurley studied politics. But before he was even 30, he was a shrewd political practitioner.
As a campaigner for U.S. immigration reform in the mid-1980s, he did the rounds of Capitol Hill, securing appointments with senators and congressmen whom high-ranking Irish government officials would not even have expected to meet. What’s more, Hurley, at the time, was himself an illegal immigrant, an "undocumented alien" prowling the halls and corridors of power in an effort to change U.S. law even as he himself was in breach of it.
A native of Skibbereen, Co. Cork, Hurley had become a member of the Cork Association and the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Like Michael Collins, another West Cork man, Hurley believed that membership of different organizations gave him a variety of hats to choose from in pursuit of his particular objective.
Now 36, Hurley is director of security at the New York Marriott Marquis in Manhattan. He runs the day-to-day security of the hotel, supervises investigations, provides special events security and liaises with the police department when necessary. "Basically, I am the eyes and ears of the hotel general manager," he said.
Arriving in New York in September 1986, he became the third generation of his family to emigrate from Ireland. His parents had left for New Zealand, where he was born. When he was about 4, they returned to Skibbereen.
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In 1985, he graduated from University College, Cork, with an honors degree in European studies and political science.
In the Big Apple, working in construction and visiting the bars, he found himself amid thousands of young Irish illegal immigrants, many of them earning a lot of money and living it up, but nevertheless existing in the shadows of the law. Hurley and another immigrant from Skibbereen, Sean Minihane, became concerned over what they were seeing. (Minihane subsequently returned to Ireland).
"We started having in-depth conversations about this," Hurley said. "We looked around and wondered what was going to happen to all these young Irish people when the party was over. We felt that, at least, Ireland had given us a third level education. We felt we couldn’t turn our backs on these people and there was a mutual agreement that we should do something."
When the New York Times began researching an article on illegal Irish immigrants, reporter Marvine Howe interviewed Hurley. The result was a story in the Times about an illegal Irish immigrant named "Patrick."
"That story in the New York Times blew the lid off the whole immigration situation," Hurley said.
There followed the Irish Immigration Reform Movement, a grassroots group whose efforts resulted in the implementation of U.S. visa programs that benefited thousands of young Irish illegals. Among its earliest supporters was the Cork Association.
"The Cork Association provided the forum which launched the IIRM and nurtured it in its infancy," Hurley said. "Anyone who came here in the last 13 years or so and got a Morrison or Donnelly Visa has no idea of the debt they owe the Cork Association."
An irony of it all was that Hurley himself was almost left without a visa because, in the eyes of the U.S. State Department, he was not Irish, but a New Zealander.
But, thanks to a late-night conversation between Hurley and former Rep. Brian Donnelly in The Dubliner pub in Washington following the 1990 AOH convention, a special amendment was added to a bill going through Congress that covered Hurley’s situation.
On Independence Day 1991, Hurley was married, in Ireland, to Mary Cahill, of Belmont, Co. Offaly, whom had met through his work with the IIRM. Six days later, in the U.S. Embassy in Dublin, he was among the last of thousands of applicants to be granted a Donnelly Visa.