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U.S. judge’s ruling splits McAllister family

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

A U.S. judge has granted political asylum to five members of the McAllister family from Belfast but has ordered father-of-four Malachy McAllister to be deported.

Thursday’s decision, by Judge Henry Dogin of the U.S. immigration court in Newark, N.J., will result in an appeal being filed with the Board of Immigration Appeals in Washington D.C., said McAllister family attorney Claudia Slovinsky.

In granting them asylum, Judge Dogin ruled that Bernadette McAllister and her four children had suffered "severe persecution" at the hands of loyalist paramilitaries, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and British army.

But while the judge acknowledged that Malachy McAllister had also suffered persecution in Northern Ireland, he ruled that the former Irish National Liberation Army member did not qualify for political asylum in the U.S. due to a conviction and prison term served in the North.

"What are my kids and I supposed to do? Live here in peace while my husband lives in fear back in Northern Ireland," Bernadette McAllister said.

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"This decision amounts to splitting the baby. But the judge did acknowledge in surprisingly strong words the dangers my family would face in Northern Ireland. The ruling could be viewed as a breakthrough in that sense," Malachy McAllister told the Echo.

He said that the uncertainty surrounding his family’s future was taking its toll. He now hopes for greater political action in the case following the court decision.

"What can you do? You just go from day to day," he said.

Judge Dogin, in his decision, stated that the McAllisters had suffered "extreme past persecution" and discrimination as a result of being Catholics. He pointed to a "constant campaign of harassment" by loyalists who the British government were unable or unwilling to control.

Dogin also cited incidents of public humiliation, physical abuse and the loyalist gun attack on the family home.

It was that attack, in 1988, that prompted the McAllisters to flee Belfast. They traveled first to Canada and later entered the U.S. During the attack, 26 bullets were fired into the home, which was occupied at the time by the McAllister children and their grandmother.

But while Judge Dogin acknowledged the family’s fears, he significantly ruled in line with the U.S. attorney’s arguments that Malachy McAllister had entered the U.S. illegally while carrying the burden of a conviction for terrorism in Northern Ireland.

McAllister served four years after being convicted in a non-jury Diplock court, where he was charged with taking part in what turned out to be a non-fatal INLA attack on an RUC patrol during which McAllister acted as a lookout.

The evidence against McAllister was provided by a so-called "supergrass" witness who later retracted his testimony.

Attorney Slovinsky, meanwhile, said that regardless of the immigration court decision, there would not be a split in the McAllister family.

"Nobody is going anywhere," she said.

The family’s other attorney, Diane George, expressed frustration at the judge’s view of Malachy McAllister’s role in the Troubles.

"The message sent by the judge is that no matter how much persecution you suffer at the hands of the government, you can never fight back," she said. "We think many of our country’s founders who fought for their freedom from the British would disagree with this idea.

"This decision also is hard to understand in light of the widespread release of former political prisoners in Northern Ireland under the Good Friday agreement."

A spokesman for the INS told the Echo that in the light of the fact that both the government and the McAllisters still had avenues of appeal, and also given that no final order had been delivered in the case, it would be "inappropriate" for the INS to make a statement at this time.

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