Michael Usiku, a student of Carlow College, is the latest example in a string of deportation orders delayed as a result of pressure from local communities. Michael, a Malawian national, received a deportation order in December 2019 after failing to provide proof of study in time for a renewal of his student visa. This failure was partially due to the fact that the deadline set by the Irish National Immigration Service (INIS) was several months before Carlow College sent letters of enrolment. As a result, Michael’s student visa was not renewed and he was ordered to leave the country.

 

The deportation order came while Michael was sitting his exams, and ordered Michael to leave the country by December 29. In response to the order, a number of Carlow College staff and students mobilised, as well as several civil society organisations. A group of approximately 25 protesters met at the steps of the Department of Justice on December 18, in order to pressure the Minister for Justice into stopping the deportation and granting Michael a visa to complete his education. This may have been instrumental in leading to the delay of the deportation order for 10 days as his deadline approached, at which point he was required to sign in with the INIS. Following this sign-in, the order was delayed again until the 20 February, at which point he must sign in with the INIS again, according to Adam Kane, President of Carlow College Students’ Union.

 

This case is one in a string of cases where local communities, and schools in particular, have been instrumental in the delay or revocation of deportation orders. The case of Eric Zhi Ying Mei Xue, a child who was born in Ireland to a Chinese national, gained significant media attention around the same time as Michael’s case. In Eric’s case, his primary school mobilized support for their pupil, who had never been to China, and who would have limited access to services in China such as health and education, as he is not a Chinese citizen.

 

Although there are differences between these cases, in particular the length of stay, and the depth of integration into Irish society, they also show similarities. One of these is the role of local communities, and in particular of schools in mobilizing support, and the capacity of this support to have a significant influence on the decisions of the INIS and the Department of Justice. Another similarity appears to be the discomfort shown with deportation, an understandable unease in a traditional country of emigration. This discomfort is particularly evident around children born in Ireland to parents who have no right to residence. This phenomenon follows the passing of the referendum in 2004 that revoked the ius soli rule whereby those born on Irish soil automatically become Irish citizens. Since then, there have been multiple cases of children who are born and raised in Ireland, who nonetheless have no right to Irish citizenship. The discomfort with this situation is clear from the level of community mobilisation for those who have regular contact with these children, although this policy is by no means unusual internationally.

 

Ireland is not the first country to learn the hard way how difficult it is to forcibly return individuals who have built connections in the country. The Netherlands, which used to adopt a dispersal policy for asylum seekers realised that this led to the integration of asylum seekers into the small villages and towns to which they were sent. This made deportation very difficult, with communities staunchly protesting deportation orders. As a result, the Netherlands had to reverse this policy, and now mainly keeps asylum seekers in housing centres close to big cities in an effort to prevent integration into the local community. 

 

While many countries have been dealing with sensitive situations of migration and deportation for many years, it is a relatively new phenomenon for Ireland. Ireland’s immigrant population has quadrupled since 1990, when the Celtic Tiger changed Ireland’s economic and employment landscape. However, with a greater ability to control our borders, due to relative geographic isolation, cases like those currently being experienced have been rare. Nonetheless, Ireland has increasingly become a country of destination for both EU and non-EU migrants, likely thanks to a strong demand for both high-skilled and low-skilled labour, and a continuously strong economy. The significant shift in Ireland’s migration profile in a very short period of time means that both our institutions and our society are ill-prepared to approach deportation and return, one of the most controversial issues in migration regulation. Another theme arising from these recent cases is that of discomfort with the idea of children born and raised in Ireland who have no right to Irish citizenship. Prior to the 2004 referendum that revoked the right, being born in Ireland automatically entitled children to Irish citizenship. While 79% of voters cast their vote in favour of this revocation, a Behaviour and Attitudes poll for the Sunday Times taken after the publicity garnered by Eric Zhi Ying Mei Xue’s situation showed that around 71% of those polled were in favour of granting this right to automatic citizenship. With increasing immigration and an increasing realisation of the reality of not providing birthright citizenship, it may be time for the Irish population to revisit this question, one of many challenging debates to be had in a changing country.  

 

 

Photo by marctasman, Wikimedia commons

 

 

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