US

ICE Detention Of Well-Known Figure Stuns Boston’s Illegal Irish Community

Federal agents arrested a prominent member of Boston’s illegal Irish community at his home Tuesday, touching off fears that thousands of Irish nationals living and working in the area are now targets for deportation.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained John Cunningham, an electrical contractor and former chairman of the Gaelic Athletic Association in Boston, for overstaying a 90-day visa after entering the United States in 2003. The arrest of such a well-known figure has sparked fresh concern among the estimated 12,000 illegal Irish in Massachusetts about their prospects under the Trump administration’s strict immigration enforcement policies, reports the Boston Herald.

Irish Cultural Centre of New England President Seamus Mulligan told the Herald that Irish illegal immigrants in the region are advising each other that if “someone knocks on your door at 5 a.m., keep the door closed and say, ‘Can I help you?’ And if they don’t have a search warrant, tell them to go to hell.”

The 38-year-old Cunningham has lived in the U.S. for 16 years and has not returned to Ireland since 1999, reports the Irish Times. As an Irish citizen, he was able to enter the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program, which allows the citizens of certain countries to visit without going through the normal visa application process. Under the terms of the program, entrants waive any rights to be seen by a judge if they overstay, meaning Cunningham has no defense against deportation.

“Cunningham is currently in ICE custody pending removal from the United States,” ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer said in a statement. “Visa Waiver Program participants waive their rights to a hearing before an immigration judge and are subject to mandatory detention.”

Cunningham’s friends speculate that he came to the attention of ICE agents following a March appearance on an Irish television show, where he discussed living in the U.S. illegally.

“All of a sudden, you turn around and too much time has gone by and you start to realize what is going to be in store for yourself for the future,” he said on the RTE Prime Time news show.

ICE says Cunningham was picked up as a result of a routine investigation into immigration violations, not because of any appearances in the media. Neudauer told the Independent that the arrest had nothing to do with a change in enforcement priorities under the Trump administration.

“John overstayed his visa by 15 years. Oddly, a lot of people are trying to tie this with the current presidential administration,” he said. “This has always been a priority. People were arrested and removed under the prior administration going back many years.”

Though members of Boston’s Irish community have described Cunningham as a law-abiding citizen, he does have an outstanding warrant in Massachusetts for failing to appear in court in connection with an alleged larceny offense, reports the Independent.

A client accused Cunningham of taking a $1,300 check for contracting work but never finishing the job. He subsequently failed to show up for a mandated court appearance on Oct. 16, 2014, a West Roxbury district Court spokesperson confirmed to the Independent.

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