Irish citizen John Cunningham, who had lived as an illegal immigrant in Massachusetts for a decade, was deported on Wednesday evening. According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Cunningham represented an “enforcement priority”, and had been in custody since his arrest at home on June 16. The 38-year-old entered the United States on a 90-day visa waiver but had stayed for more than 10 years.
ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls said last week of the Irishman’s arrest, "His significant overstay was cause and reason enough.” He added, "Someone who overstays a visitor visa is flagrantly violating the granted benefit." Cunningham, an electrical contractor, was subject to mandatory detention and thus was not entitled to a hearing under the terms of the visa. Cunningham had other legal problems. There was a warrant for his arrest for his failure to present himself in court about a dispute with a customer over a $1,300 check.
There is a sizeable community of Irish immigrants living in Massachusetts, which is home to about 12,000 of the 50,000 Irish living in the U.S. illegally. Cunningham had once been a chairman of the Gaelic Athletic Association, which organizes traditional Irish sports. In the months before his arrest, he appeared on a national news show in Ireland and shared his story of living as an illegal immigrant in the United States.
The Irish International Immigrant Center of Boston declared that it is "a sad day when our government imprisons immigrants who contribute so much to our country and society." The executive director of the Center said that Cunningham’s arrest made no sense and that citizens are not safer for his absence.
Among other groups, the Irish International Immigrant Center mustered protesters at Boston's Irish Famine Memorial on Thursday to express their opposition to President Donald Trump's immigration policies. There were Latin American immigrants at the protest in addition to Irish. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) spoke at the rally
Ronnie Millar of the Irish International Immigrant Center, said, “If they’ll go after John Cunningham, they’ll go after anybody.” He added, “John is so well-known and so well-liked. If John Cunningham is not safe, no one is safe.”