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Seeing green

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

The message coming out of Irish immigration centers coast to coast this week is that the temporary return of Section 245i of the U.S. immigration code is not an amnesty.

But it is an opportunity, one that has sparked a scramble by many undocumented Irish immigrants hopeful of securing a precious green card.

The centers have been dealing with a sharp increase in the number of inquiries by undocumented immigrants eager to take advantage of 245i’s temporary return, one that expires April 30.

245i allows the undocumented to apply for legal status while remaining in the U.S., thus avoiding the 3- or 10-year bans that automatically kick in if an illegal immigrant returns to his or her country of origin.

"We’re doing what we can to get the word out to as many people as possible. There is some misunderstanding about 245i. It’s not an amnesty, but it can be an opportunity for those who can avail of a family or employer sponsor," said Kieran O’Sullivan of the Irish Immigration Center in Boston.

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The center is already dealing with a variety of cases for which 245I’s return will have crucial implications.

A critical factor in more than one case revolves around the issue of staying put, or departing U.S. soil.

In one recent case, Dubliner Xarifa Hider successfully secured legal status by virtue of a family-based petition filed by her mother in Boston before 245i was first allowed expire by Congress in January 1998.

The petition filed by Xarifa’s mother, Katherine Gallagher, was, according to O’Sullivan, successful because Xarifa remained in the U.S. while it was being processed.

In another recent case, however, an undocumented immigrant’s flight home to Ireland from Boston may well have doomed his chances of securing legalization by way of 245i.

In this case, according to O’Sullivan, the individual was present in the U.S. on Dec. 21, the day that the temporary revival of 245i was signed into law by President Clinton.

"He was, as required by the reprieve, in the country on the 21st. But a couple of days later this individual chose to fly back to Ireland for Christmas. He had to fill out an I-94 departure form before leaving and this could now mean that the ban from the U.S. will kick in and prevent him from taking advantage of 245i’s temporary return," O’Sullivan said.

Ironically, then, it would appear that the best way right now for an individual to rid himself or herself of undocumented status is to remain in the U.S. — illegally.

In another case on the Boston Center’s book, the prospect of marriage might save an undocumented Cork woman from the ban even though she returned to Ireland recently to visit her elderly parents.

"If she now gets married, she could adjust her status through her husband who did stay in the U.S," O’Sullivan said.

"Obviously filing for a spouse works under 245i as does filing for a brother, sister or children over 21. Uncle, aunts and cousins don’t count.

"If you qualify for a potential green card under 245I you can apply by way a family-based petition or an employer one. You can file under both and indeed sometimes the employer petition is dealt with more quickly by the INS."

In San Francisco, the word on the streets has been of an amnesty and, as with Boston, staff at the Irish Immigrant Pastoral Center, have been busy correcting this widespread misinterpretation of 245i’s essence and purpose.

At the same time, the dramatically increased volume of calls and visits have confirmed something that Celine Kennelly of the center has sensed for some time.

"There has been a steady stream of Irish coming to San Francisco in the last year and the bulk of them are illegals. San Francisco seems to be the new New York," said Kennelly.

"The word on 245i is now beginning to get out there and we are organizing seminars to deal with the many questions about it," she told the Echo.

Kennelly indicated a priority for the seminars will be to correct the inaccurate impression that 245I was an amnesty.

In Philadelphia, Tom Conaghan, director of the Philadelphia Immigration Resource Center, is having to deal with exactly the same problem.

"There are a lot of people calling it an amnesty, which it is not, but at the same time 245i is a way to deal with the problem of being undocumented," Conaghan said.

"While the number of Irish coming here in recent years might not be as high in absolute terms as in the ’80s or early ’90s, the number of actual illegals is going up and those who are here have had little or no chance of becoming legal by means of something like the Donnelly or Morrison visa lotteries," Conaghan said.

"And the [Schumer] diversity lottery has been like looking for a needle in a haystack. At least there might be some relief in 245I’s reprieve."

But with 245I set to expire again after April 30, the Irish centers around the country know they have their work cut out for them

Yes, time is of the essence," Tom Conaghan in Philadelphia said.

For information on planned seminars in these immigration centers call (617) 542-7654 for Boston, (610) 924-0277 for Philadelphia and (415) 752-6006 for San Francisco. In New York, information is available from Project Irish Outreach at (212) 371-1011, ext. 2485, the Aisling Center in Yonkers at (914) 237-5098 or the Emerald Isle Immigration Center in Queens at (718) 478-5502.

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