Thousands of undocumented Irish people living in the United States are facing a bigger threat to their futures from Ireland than any measures proposed by Donald Trump, a Galway TD has claimed.
Deputy Noel Grealish said that a requirement that people renewing their Irish driving licence must appear in person at a National Driver Licence Service (NDLS ) office here is placing emigrants to America in jeopardy.
He said that because they cannot risk coming home to Ireland — for fear of being detected as an ‘illegal’ on their return to the US — they cannot renew what has become their most important form of identity.
“I was in Boston last week for a family wedding and I was approached by seven Irish people who told me that their Irish driving licences had gone out of date and they were really worried about the consequences.“
At present in the United States, there are a total of 130 what are called sanctuary cities — including the big Irish cities like Boston, New York and Chicago — where if you are stopped by a police officer while driving you are asked for one document, your driving licence.
“You are not asked if you are undocumented or if you are living in the country legally. And they don’t share your information with immigration authorities. So the licence question is a major issue now because if you haven’t a driver’s licence when you are stopped by the police, you are going to be arrested.
“Then that opens up a whole new chain of events, because when you are brought into a police station, they are going to ask if you are legal in the United States, if you have documents allowing you to be there. Then you’re in trouble and facing deportation,” said Deputy Grealish.
The Galway West Independent TD said that he had flagged the problem with then Transport Minister, Paschal Donohoe, when the rules governing the renewal of licences, including the requirement for applicants to present themselves in person, changed with the introduction of the card licences a few years ago.
Now he is urging the Government to at least ease the regulations in relation to Irish people abroad, allowing them to renew their licence either by post or online.“I really don’t understand why this requirement is there in the first place — the most important document anybody can have is their passport, which you can renew by post with the Passport Office in Dublin, and if you are living in the US, you can post your application for renewal to the Irish consulate office in New York, Boston, Chicago or wherever. So why can’t people do this when they want to renew their driving licence?”
Deputy Grealish said that he had arranged a meeting this week with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross, to try and find a resolution to the problem, and he had also tabled a Dáil question on the matter.
“This is a matter that is causing difficulty for Irish people in other countries too, but it’s a particular problem in the US, where so many Irish people are undocumented and it’s causing a lot of trauma for them.“I’ve had numerous calls on this from worried families and from the people concerned, as I’m sure every TD in the Dáil has. We simply must find a solution and fast,” added Deputy Grealish.