April 13

Assault on asylum

These are worrying days for Malachy McAllister and the group of his fellow Irishmen known collectively as “the deportees.”

McAllister, for one, has been living his American life one year at a time.

Now it’s down to six months at a time.

The Belfast man has faced the constant threat of deportation for years but each year, around St. Patrick’s Day, he has been given relief by means of a private bill in Congress, most often crafted by New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez.

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Menendez stepped up again this year, as did his Democratic colleague Congressman Bill Pascrell.

But this wasn’t enough.

As reported in a recent issue, under the Trump administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, has sidelined the co-called private bill policy and the stays on deportation that they could bring about.

Now what is required to secure a stay is the support of the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, or its immigration subcommittee. Both chairs, Senator Lindsey Graham and John Cornyn, are Republicans.

McAllister has been supported by GOP legislators over the years, most notably Congressman Peter King. But bipartisanship alone wasn’t enough this year.

As it turned out, Senator Graham ultimately stepped up requested a stay on deportation for McAllister.

The stay is for six months only and McAllister cannot relax for one minute in his effort to gain asylum or permanent residence in the U.S.

McAllister has support for his effort in Congress from, among others, New York’s Senator Charles Schumer.

Schumer, in a statement said: “For decades now in America, Malachy McAllister has done nothing but work hard, give back to the community, support the Irish Peace process and take care of his family, which now includes an American-born child and wife.

“It is absurd to send him back to Ireland and he should be allowed to remain here. Working hard with Senator Menendez and friends in the House, we were able to get a last minute reprieve from an offensive St. Patrick’s Day deportation order.

“I will continue to work with my colleagues and with the Irish American community to secure his long-term status here.”

That looks like it won’t be an easy task, however.

According to a Washington Post report, ahead of his trip to the southern border on Friday of last week, President Trump reiterated his call for Congress to overhaul U.S. immigration laws, but this time said lawmakers should get “rid of the whole asylum system.”

Stated the Post report: “The Trump administration has already implemented ways to make it more challenging for immigrants to seek asylum in the United States. But suggesting that the entire asylum system be scrapped is a step further than he’s gone in the past.

“He also reiterated that Congress should dispense with immigration judges, a comment he made earlier in the week.”

It would be interesting indeed to hear what the president’s sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, might have to say on this one. She only recently retired as a member of the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeal, a legal body that would have had a far busier docket had there been no immigration judges working below it.

It is unclear what system the president night want to see replace the current asylum process.

But, as the Washington Post report stated, if he literally wants to get rid of immigration judges, that would mean he is advocating for abandoning due process for migrants seeking asylum, “which would shatter U.S. and international norms.”

It is fair to conclude that the president’s attention is not focused on asylum in the context of the lingering effects of the Northern Ireland Troubles, but rather on the situation at the southern border where many women and children are arriving seeking asylum as they flee the troubles of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in particular.

But the risk here is a one size fits all shift in the way that the United States treats those who reach its shores seeking shelter.

Hopefully, President Trump will come to see asylum as the complicated and variable issue that it has always been, and yet is.

Maybe he should confer with his sister, no pushover when she was on the bench, but someone who might feel a stronger attachment to those now endangered legal norms.