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Green Card

By Debbie McGoldrick

Harassment in Ireland

IF you think being an undocumented alien in the U.S. is bad, just try being a legal permanent resident!

Though the ultimate goal for the undocumented is to secure legal status here which would allow them to legally work and travel abroad, once such status is attained it can sometimes come with its own attendant hassles.

Some while ago we mentioned in this column a close friend who married a U.S. citizen and received a green card approximately six months afterwards. Having spent several years out of the country, said friend was eager to return home to Ireland to see family, so he and his new wife made a trip together.

They returned to the U.S. after a couple of weeks and all was fine, immigration-wise. Then friend wanted to spend a few days in Ireland last summer, but his wife couldn’t secure the time off from work. He therefore went alone for a week, but the line of questioning he received on the way back from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in Dublin was stern to say the least.

The saying “go along to get along” always comes to mind when dealing with U.S. immigration agents, so he patiently answered intrusive questions (“Where’s your wife?” “Are you still together?” “Why isn’t she with you?”) and was eventually approved for entry.

Scroll ahead to this past summer. Friend’s father is diagnosed with a serious illness, and naturally he was on the first plane home where he remained for a good part of the summer, having received a temporary leave from his job to deal with the family crisis.

When he arrived at Dublin Airport and U.S. CBP a couple of months ago to return to New York the questioning was pretty much routine, and he was re-admitted without a problem.

Unfortunately friend’s dad took a turn for the worse not long after that, and another trip to Ireland was required. Which brings us to last week, when he returned – just about – to New York, after a horrible encounter with a CBP agent seemingly intent on harassment.

Friend was asked all kinds of questions – why so much travel back and forth between Ireland and the U.S.? (A sick parent didn’t seem to matter one iota to this officer.)

What about U.S. employment? Why would an employer want to keep on such an absentee employee? (Officer perhaps never heard how easy it is to stay on top of things these days via email and Internet. And maybe he doesn’t know that steady employment is not a requirement for maintaining a green card.)

Then came the inevitable questions about the wife. Why isn’t she in Ireland? Is the marriage still going on? Where does she work? What’s the number of the building that she works in? And on and on and on.

The harassment – and that’s what this is, harassment – was so bad that friend actually thought he wouldn’t be permitted to return to New York, even though he is a permanent resident in good standing, pays taxes and rent and other bills, and maintains a full life here. In other words, he’s doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing in accordance with the terms of his status.

This is not a situation that occurs on a regular basis. Most agents are professional and conduct their business without resorting to such aggression against legal permanent residents — at least we hope that’s the case.

What did this officer hope to accomplish by being so vicious? It’s one thing if a person is in flagrant violation of U.S. immigration law, but a permanent resident is legally allowed to travel back and forth to the U.S., as long as this country remains the primary place of residence.

We’re all for protecting our borders, but it seems that some CBP officers in Ireland are in dire need of some sensitivity training. Is an Irish male with a green card returning home to visit a sick parent really a threat to this country’s security?



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