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The new generation From the North to N.Y. — one immigrant’s odyssey

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Harry Keaney and Patrick Markey

Money.

That’s 19-year-old Mary McGrory’s answer, short and simple, for deciding to come to the United States a few months ago.

So much for the booming Celtic Tiger economy.

McGrory is testimony to the fact the Celtic Tiger shrugs its cold shoulder to those without third-level education or skills currently in demand in Ireland. And for those who feel they are not part of the much-vaunted boom, immigration to America retains the lure of betterment.

McGrory, a native of the Republic of Ireland who grew up in the North, left high school in 1998 and spent a year studying business and finance.

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Then she moved to Limerick.

"The money in the South is double as good as in the North and that’s the reason I went to the South in the first place," she said.

But if wages in the South are high, so too is the cost of living.

"I was working in a bar, the money was good, but I couldn’t survive on it," she said. "I would be paying my bills and when I had all paid I would have only £20 left."

For many young people living in Ireland, their greatest expense is maintaining and paying insurance for a car, a necessity for those in rural areas who must drive to their workplace. It was an expense McGrory could not afford.

"I live in a rural area," McGrory said, "and my mother would have to take me to and from work and she just couldn’t do that.

"I had a sister who was working here in New York and one day I was telling her I had no money and she said, ‘Why don’t you come to America?’ "

McGrory landed in Miami, an arrival point favored by some who intend to remain and work illegally in the U.S. It’s more plausible to arrive as a "tourist" in Florida than in more traditional immigrant-arrival locations such as New York or Boston, the theory goes.

Without a green card, McGrory found it difficult to get a job in Florida. "Fort Lauderdale is very spread out, you don’t have subways and buses passing your door, and you need a car," she said.

So she left for New York. Upon arrival, she immediately found work as a waitress. She soon discovered as a Northerner in the Big Apple, she was not alone.

"I was very surprised at the numbers of people here from Northern Ireland," she said. "I always presumed there were more Southerners here and I never realized there were so many from the North. Even in Florida, there were a lot of Northerners. They all say they are going back to Ireland, but I don’t know."

McGrory said she sees herself remaining in the U.S. "for a few years."

"I do not know if I would stay here working in a bar or restaurant as a waitress," she said. "If I had a green card I would look into different things or even go to college."

But McGrory’s presence in the U.S. may, ironically, work against her if she is ever called for interview in Ireland in connection with an application for a green card. Under legislation passed in the U.S. in 1996, she may be barred from entering the U.S. for three years. If she remains in the U.S. illegally for more than 180 days, she may be barred from reentering the U.S. for 10 years.

It’s for people such as McGrory who immigrant advocates are seeking reinstatement of an immigration law known as Section 245(i). This would allow undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to obtain green cards and become part of mainstream America.

("Mary McGrory" is an assumed name. She agreed to be interviewed by the Echo on the understanding her identity would not be revealed.)

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