Gender & Identity, Life

My father was an undocumented immigrant – here’s why nobody cared

Let's stop pretending that we care about a person's immigration status.

My father was a white man from Ireland who came to the U.S. in 1985 when he was only 20 years old. He was also here illegally – he used a visa that was meant to be used for those who will be coming to the United States to work, but he had some strings pulled and came to America without a job.

While the rhetoric we hear today would have you believe that all undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are from Mexico, the truth is that the undocumented immigrant in your neighborhood could just as easily be the white guy who works at the Starbucks near your office. In fact, Canada outranks all other countries in the United States for overstaying their visas.

Once your visa is expired, you’re officially undocumented, and yet somehow we never hear this statistic.

How does that make sense? If our concern is truly with the legality of immigrants’ presence in the country, we’d be taking action against all sources of undocumented immigration, rather than singling out one of the countries that we share borders with.

But the truth is that being undocumented is only a problem if you’re a person of color from a country we don’t like.

I am damn proud of my father.

The 1970s and ’80s in Ireland are referred to as “the troubles.” Northern Ireland was separated from the Republic of Ireland and there were many violent attacks by people both in favor of this separation and against it. My father, growing up in Dublin and seeing the violence and disruption around him and to the North, saw Ireland as a country under duress. So he obtained a visa illegally and escaped to the United States.

He ended up getting a job in a little town in rural New York as a bartender. There he met my mom and they got married, and here I am. He then eventually became a citizen of the United States, something that 60 percent of Americans believe should be open to undocumented immigrants today.

My father worked blue collar jobs. He was a bartender in the middle of nowhere in New York, a place that doesn’t even have cell phone service today. He chose to leave his country because it could not provide a future for him, and he came to America and created a family and a life for himself. He did not become a high-powered executive or CEO or rich by any means.

He made a life for himself, and that’s it.

Nobody cared that a white guy from Ireland hopped over to the U.S. with fraudulent documentation and worked menial jobs. If another white Irish guy did the same thing my dad did today, no one would be up in arms about the bartending job he “took from” American citizens. What twenty-year-old in 2017 wants to be a bartender where they can’t even text anyway?

In fact, no one would think to ask if his papers were in order at all.

Let’s stop pretending that we care about a person’s immigration status, or fairness to people who came here legally, or even the integrity of our borders.

The truth is that the people ranting about undocumented immigrants care more about their skin color and the place they came from than anything that has to do with their status in this country.