When you think about the dominant narrative around undocumented immigrants in the U.S., the Irish may not be the first group of people that come to mind. But there are an estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish immigrants currently residing in the U.S. Admittedly, their struggle is different, as Shauna, an Irish immigrant, explained in a recent CNN article: “It is easier being illegal here when you’re white. It’s a bit easier to stay under the radar.”
The Irish make up one of the largest European populations in the United States, but due to the 1965 Immigration Act, legal immigration is nearly out of the question.
The act set a limit on the number of Irish immigrants allowed in the country. As the New York Times reported in 1988, only about 10,000 immigrants were legally allowed to enter the U.S. between the years 1976 to 1985. And it hasn’t gotten any easier for hopeful Irish immigrants looking for a better life. For many, the only way to stay in the country is to overstay their visas and hope they aren’t deported. Like undocumented Latino immigrants, they are hardly able to enjoy the society to which they contribute so much of their hard work and culture.
Though they may be less likely to be profiled by ICE agents, these Irish undocumented immigrants say the face similar struggles.
Like undocumented Latino immigrants, the undocumented Irish rarely report crimes against them. They avoid going to the doctor because they don’t want to reveal their immigration status. But because they left harsh conditions, the struggles they face in the United States are worth the troubles they endure. However, because they are white, they don’t face the prejudice many Latinos face.
As NPR pointed out, in 2014, around 177,000 Mexicans were deported, while only a mere 33 Irish immigrants faced deportation. Despite the difference in treatment, the undocumented Irish live in constant fear they could be deported any day under the Trump Administration.
Shauna summed up for CNN the differences undocumented Irish and undocumented Latinos experience:
“Even as Irish, you can feel it when you’re out. Even if it’s not directed at me and it’s at someone who is Mexican or Brazilian or something, it still affects me because I feel like I’m in the same boat, but they don’t direct it at me because I’m white.”
Whether or not immigration laws are designed to target Latinos because of their skin color is up for debate, but the reality here is that the immigration system is broken for many hard working people looking to better themselves and the societies to which they belong.