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When it comes to immigrants being deported under the Trump administration, Mexicans and Central Americans get a lot of attention because they are the most affected. But year-end figures show the Trump administration is aggressively deporting people from other places, too. NPR's John Burnett reports that Irish nationals living illegally in Boston have seen a rise in detentions, and they're worried.
JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Dylan O'Riordan, 19 years old, wears a lemon-yellow jail jumpsuit and a bewildered expression on his pale face as he sits in the visiting room of the Suffolk County House of Corrections.
DYLAN O'RIORDAN: I was aware that, like, probably with Trump, like, immigration was going to get a lot harder. I still really paid no - as much of mind to it as I should have, which was my first mistake.
BURNETT: O'Riordan was born in Galway, Ireland. Both parents previously lived in the U.S. and had green cards. When they moved back to the Boston area, they brought Dylan with them on a visa-waiver program. He was 12 years old. He overstayed his 90 days and lived his life like any other American teenager, though he was unauthorized. He had a child with his girlfriend, Brenna, dropped out of high school, and went to work for his uncle's roofing company. About four months ago, he and Brenna were at a mall when they got into an argument.
O'RIORDAN: It was nothing at all. Some woman called the cops, said I was abusing my girlfriend.
BURNETT: O'Riordan was arrested for domestic assault and battery, but Brenna denied she'd been assaulted. The county chose not to prosecute. O'Riordan had no prior criminal record, so the judge let him go. Then when he walked out of the holding cell, agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement were waiting for him. Someone in the courthouse had tipped them off. He's been locked up for four months now.
Visitors from some countries with good U.S. relations do not need visas, but they're at a disadvantage compared to immigrants who illegally cross the border. They don't have a right to an immigration hearing if they stay past 90 days. O'Riordan's lawyer, Tony Marino, made the case to ICE that his client was brought here when he was a child.
TONY MARINO: And their position has been, well, he waived whatever rights he had when he came in. Twelve-year-olds don't waive rights. I've never seen anything like it. I can't wrap my head around it.
BURNETT: An ICE spokesman in Boston points out O'Riordan overstayed more than seven years and that he should be removed. They plan to put him on a plane to Dublin later this week. Dylan O'Riordan is not an isolated case. Undocumented Irish have been swept up in the administration's nationwide immigration dragnet. Under strict new rules, anyone here illegally is a target whether they're convicted of a crime or not. In 2017, ICE deported 34 Irish, up from 26 the year before. The numbers are tiny compared to more than a hundred thousand Mexicans deported. But in Boston's close-knit Irish community, the wave of arrests is big news. It's all the talk at the The Green Briar Irish pub. Tommy O'Connor works the beer taps there.
TOMMY O'CONNOR: I served you a half and half served with one of our local beers, Sam Adams. And the other half is Guinness.
BURNETT: O'Connor says the deportation of one of his customers caused panic. The prominent Irish immigrant had talked to an Irish TV crew about the fear of being unauthorized in the U.S. Within weeks, ICE picked him up and sent him back to Ireland.
O'CONNOR: And it was a shock because it wasn't during a traffic stop. He was arrested in his home. That means - and it could happen to anybody because he was, you know, a very well-known figure in the Irish community.
BURNETT: ICE is aggressively deporting people from everywhere. Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras account for nine out of 10 deportations, but removals to 186 other countries, from Slovakia to Somalia, have jumped 24 percent compared to Obama's last year in office according to an analysis by NPR.
RONNIE MILLAR: That's really indiscriminate. ICE have - in their aggressive tactics of detention are going after the Irish as much as they're going after any other nationality.
BURNETT: Ronnie Millar is director of the Irish International Immigrant Center in Boston.
MILLAR: I would say that Irish immigrants are on high alert. They have no confidence that the color of their skin provides any protection.
BURNETT: Dylan O'Riordan didn't necessarily think being white would save him from deportation orders. He thought staying out of trouble would keep him under the radar. He says the other ICE detainees were surprised to see him.
O'RIORDAN: They're like, are you supposed to be here? Like, you're basically American. You look American. You sound American.
BURNETT: He's confined with 150 other men in various stages of deportation.
O'RIORDAN: There's a lot of people from El Salvador, a lot of Guatemalans, couple of Haitian people. And I'm the only Irish in the whole facility.
BURNETT: The Boston ICE office sent a statement to NPR that it apprehends, quote, "all those in violation of immigration laws regardless of national origin." Ireland estimates as many as 50,000 unauthorized Irish live in the shadows in America. Their government is so concerned that it appointed a special envoy to the U.S. Congress. His mission - try and work out a legislative fix for undocumented Irish to find them a pathway to citizenship and get more work visas. Fionnuala Quinlan, the Irish consul general in Boston, says with the island's small population, there's hardly a family in Ireland that doesn't know of someone living illegally in America.
FIONNUALA QUINLAN: That's really why the government places such a strong emphasis on us. We know the impact that living an undocumented life has on people - not being able to go home for funerals or celebrations, you know, the fear and isolation that can result from that.
BURNETT: The Irish government is seeking a solution because of cases like Dylan O'Riordan. He and Brenna were married in the jail chapel. She wasn't allowed to wear a wedding dress, so she donned jeans and a sweatshirt. He wore his jail clothes emblazoned with ICE. Brenna says she now plans to take their infant daughter Delilah and move to Ireland. She and Dylan hope their marriage will help him get a green card to return to Boston one day. Meanwhile, she says, she's being forced out of her country just to be with her husband. John Burnett, NPR News, Boston.
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