The Irish Times ran a story this week about Irish TD John Deasy taking issue with the number of Irish illegally in the US. For years, the number 50,000 has been bandied about with no one questioning where that number came from. Deasy reported that the Pew Foundation said the number was closer to 10,000.

Then the Irish Times ran a follow up story with views about what Deasy said. I am mentioned as noting that the Migration Policy Institute told me last November that there are fewer than 16,000 Irish illegally in the US (and it could be much lower, which would track with what the Pew Foundation told Deasy).

In the same Irish Times piece, Niall O’Dowd, co-founder of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, said that Deasy was wrong because he had not looked at the “one authentic source”, figures from the Department of Homeland Security. The Irish Times looked at those numbers and reported 2,569 visa overstays in 2016; 2,113 overstays in 2015; and 2,292 in 2014. (The real numbers are actually a bit lower because the report also notes the numbers of people who returned to Ireland after “their lawful period of admission expired.” Furthermore, the report says that the numbers don’t account for those who may have received legitimate visa extensions.)

But what is most interesting is the fact that Homeland Security only recently began providing these reports. As the New York Times noted on May 22, 2017, the Homeland Security report was, “just the second issued in the last 20 years despite being required annually by law.”

O’Dowd told the Irish Times: “You can go back many years and find that number was much higher than current numbers.” But if reports only go back to 2014, where can you find earlier numbers from the US Government?

O’Dowd has been using the number 50,000 for years. In July 2006, Cox News Service quoted O’Dowd as saying that the ILIR was “formed last year in response to the growing struggles of Irish illegal immigrants in the United States, which he estimates number 50,000 to 60,000.” (That same quote can be found on the ILIR’s website.)

But just seven months earlier (December 14, 2005), O’Dowd’s wife, and the editor of the Irish Voice, Debbie McGoldrick wrote, “the new lobby group created by the Irish Voice … will advocate on behalf of the estimated 20,000-30,000 Irish undocumented in the U.S.”

Are we to believe that in the space of seven months, at the height of Ireland’s economic boom, when fewer Irish were coming to the US and many were returning, that the number of Irish illegally in the US doubled?


About Trina Vargo

Trina Vargo created the US-Ireland Alliance in 1998 after having served for eleven years as a Foreign Policy Advisor to Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Working directly with political leaders in Northern Ireland, the Clinton Administration, and the Irish Government, she served as a key behind-the-scenes player in the Northern Ireland peace process. She created the George J. Mitchell Scholarship program and the Oscar Wilde Awards which honor the Irish in entertainment. Views are her own.
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