Malachy McAllister with Cardinal Timothy Dolan
By Ray O’Hanlon
As you get older even longer periods of time seem like no more than a blink of an eye.
For Malachy McAllister, now 62, six months barely qualifies as half a blink.
McAllister, like just about everybody else of all ages, has been in lockdown for the last two months of the past six.
Covid-19 is but another complication in his life, not least because he suffers from asthma.
Not least again because his wife and son are back in County Tyrone. They are both U.S citizens, a status that the Belfast man can only dream of.
It’s been almost six months since McAllister, who lives in New Jersey, was granted his last six month reprieve from deportation by the U.S. government - a week shy of six months.
That means that he will likely have to report for possible deportation once again next week. That means that once again he will have to hope that the intervention of dedicated friends and supporters can give him another six month stay.
There have been a lot of those anothers in his story.
The McAllister case could have been settled years ago.
That is hasn’t been settled in McAllister’s favor, in his family’s favor, is not for the want of trying.
But the system he has faced is, well, a system.
And systems can be stubborn.
The family’s story goes back to a loyalist gun attack on their Belfast home in the summer of 1988.
The McAllisters knew it was time to gather up the kids and quit town. They fled first to Canada where their later subsequent application for asylum and refugee status was eventually turned down.
Canada let itself down in this instance.
In March, 1996, the McAllisters, Malachy, Bernadette and their four children, entered the U.S. through the border checkpoint at Niagara Falls. They were admitted as “nonimmigrant visitors for pleasure” but overstayed their visas.
A year later, after settling in New Jersey, the family applied for political asylum.
And so began a marathon legal process that has lasted for twenty four years, or, if you will, 48 six month stretches.
Along the way, in 2004, Bernadette died. She did so on U.S. ground, but still absent the warm official embrace of a country long seen as a refuge from danger and oppression by people around the world.
Malachy was now standing in his very own front line. One of his sons eventually returned to Ireland. Another married and becomes a legal U.S. resident. Another son, and his daughter, stand in that line with Malachy now, though they have some degree of protection under the DACA program.
Over the years, Malachy has been required by U.S. authorities to walk again and again up to the line beyond which there is deportation and no return.
Time and again, by virtue of efforts of sympathetic political leaders and engaged Irish American organizations, he has been able to step back from the line.
But the line is always there. It is looming large again in the year of Covid-19.
This is a repeat of what happened six months ago. McAllister secured yet another six month reprieve. Those months are now passed.
Over the years a number of judges have heard the details of McAllister’s case, and that of his family.
One judge, President Trump’s sister, now retired 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Maryanne Trump Barry stated: “We cannot be the country we should be if, because of the tragic events of September 11th, we knee-jerk remove decent men and women merely because they may have erred at one point in their lives. We should look a little closer; we should care a little more. I would ask – no, I would implore – the Attorney General to exercise his discretion and permit this deserving family to stay.”
Trump Barry added: “Congress’s definition of terrorist activity sweeps in not only the big guy, but also the little guy who poses no risk to anyone. It sweeps in Malachy McAllister (and) Malachy’s children, Seán and Nicola, are swept in, too.”
Trump Barry said that were the McAllister family deported, it would mean the words carved on the Statue of Liberty would no longer mean anything.
“I refuse to believe that ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free’ is now an empty entreaty, but if it is, shame on us,” she said.
The power to allow McAllister and his family something approaching a normal American life rests with the U.S. government, specifically the Department of Homeland Security which, by this stage, has to be aware that this Belfast man in search of a new American homeland poses no security threat whatsoever to that homeland.
But again, the system. The passing of months and years means little to such a thing.