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Home away from home for Christmas

The O’Donnell family

By Ray O’Hanlon

The immigration mess always looms larger at Christmas, a time of year when an elevated value is placed on being at “home” for the holidays.

Home for the holidays, for many undocumented Irish, implies a few days spent with loved ones in Ireland.

But for one family that is both Irish and American “home” is very much an American concept – one they will be contemplating on Christmas Day from the admittedly comforting confines of County Donegal.

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Hughie O’Donnell’s story would be a familiar one to his fellow undocumented Irish.

Seven years ago he decided to take a chance and return to Ireland for personal and family reasons.

Shortly after he made the Atlantic crossing his father died.

O’Donnell had been living in New York and working for the same company for some years.

Despite his lack of legality he had grown to like his new life in America and desperately wanted to fully embrace it.

So despite that fact that his return from Ireland had triggered the automatic ten year bar on a return to the United States, he took a chance and came back, under the radar via Canada.

In time, he would meet Sarah. They would get married and have two children, Cian and Katie.

It would be a family that ranked as three quarters legal, Sarah being a naturalized U.S. citizen, the children being citizens by birth.

But being three quarters legal doesn’t make the required grade under current immigration law.

On November 4, immigration enforcement officers came to the O’Donnell family home in Sunnyside, Queens which Hugh and Sarah had worked hard to buy.

Hughie O’Donnell was detained, the officers citing a DUI offense dating back nine years.

He was taken to a detention facility in Bergen County, New Jersey and from there sent back to Ireland on November 25th, just in time not to be home for Thanksgiving.

Friends have launched a petition on his and his family’s behalf on CHANGE.ORG. It has attracted over 3000 signatures to date.

Supporters contend that Hughie has worked for the same company in all his years in the U.S., has been paying taxes, and is the health insurance provider for his family.

Said a statement from those U.S. supporters: “Hughie is a hard working loving father and has never asked anything of the U.S., only the right to remain with his children.

“Hughie, Sarah, Cian and Katie are a beautiful family and deserve to raise their children in the country they were born. We understand Hughie broke immigration law by being here without papers but are pleading for this good man to be allowed stay in New York City. Ireland will always be dear to Hughie, but it is no longer home. This is his home.”