Is a New Jersey man who was involved in the struggles in Northern Ireland a threat to U.S. security?
That’s what local and national officials are debating right now.
Malachy McAllister fled from Belfast, Northern Ireland, with his wife and four children in 1988 after his family was, they say, attacked in their own home by Paramilitary Loyalists. From 1981 to 1985, he had served time in Long Kesh prison for his involvement in an Irish National Liberation Army attack on a security force patrol, and has remained a target there ever since.
The McAllisters fled first to Canada, and then to the United States in 1996. They now live in Wallington, N.J. In November, the Board of Immigration Appeals upheld the Immigration Court’s decision to deny the McAllisters citizenship and revoke asylum for his family because he is perceived as a threat to the national security of this county due to his prior political activities in Ireland.
“This administration is concerned, and we’re all concerned about the big picture and the words terrorist and terrorism,” said McAllister last week. “The truth of the matter is that Ireland and Irish Republicans who fought in the struggles of Northern Ireland have never been a threat to the national security of this country.”
The family remains in this country as the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals considers their case, thanks to advocacy from local Rep. Steve Rothman and activist groups.
Last week, the Jersey City Council passed a resolution calling upon the United States departments of Justice and Homeland Security to suspend deportation proceedings and grant the McAllister family permanent asylum in the United States.
“A lot of things in this country get done because of a groundswell of support from communities behind causes,” said Jeff Lieberson, Rothman’s press secretary. “I certainly think that the Jersey City council passing this resolution shows the support of the greater community.”
Scars for life
Having grown up witnessing violence from the Northern Ireland police force, McAllister observes that his oldest son, who was 11 at the time, is old enough to clearly remember 1988 attack, where Loyalists allegedly shot 26 bullets into their home. The family narrowly escaped with their lives.
Malachy and his wife had taken a last-minute vacation, and his wife’s mother was watching the kids. The youngest son, Sean, was crying and Gary, the oldest, went up to check on him with daughter Nicola following. Middle son Mark was outside.
“Bernadette’s [McAllister’s wife] mother was on the couch when basically the weapon came in through the window,” said McAllister. “She just managed to get on her knees at the back of the house and escape the rain of bullets. It’s a miracle they escaped, but to this day, psychologically they’re affected, they’re traumatized every time the case comes before the court or it’s in the media. Their concern is that they’re going to be deported. So here we have a man of 27 [Mark] who’s still very much emotionally disturbed by the whole situation. And what we’ve had to go through for the past 15 years.”
In 1993, The British and Irish governments entered a ceasefire with the Good Friday Agreement, changing the status of many Irish prisoners from criminal to political.
“The offenses were committed in the course of a conflict which at various times has been called an uprising or even a war-like situation,” said McAllister’s lawyer, Eamon Dornan. “Political offenses can’t be treated as normal criminal offenses. The British and Irish government have recognized the political nature [of McAllister’s actions]. The U.S. doesn’t.”
Although a cease fire exists, people associated with the attack on his family remain in power, said McAllister.
“We received an e-mail from some source claiming to be a member of a Loyalist paramilitary group threatening ourselves, threatening the McAllister family,” said McAllister. “Recognizing the fact that we are still here and that if we are deported, they will not miss the next time. So that’s all of 15 yeas ago, and they still have us on the list, so that’s very concerning.”
Dornan explained that there is reason to believe that the Paramilitary Loyalists behind the attack may have worked in collusion with the city’s security authorities.
“Sir John Stevens,” said Dornan, “the chief of the Metropolitan Police of London, the top police force in the Unite Kingdom, documented that there is collusion in general. In Malachy’s case, all the patterns of collusion were present.”
McAllister now owns his own construction business. He believes that there are still changes that need to be made in Northern Ireland before it will be safe.
“The police force in the north of Ireland,” said McAllister, “they’ve changed their name, but certainly they haven’t changed the whole distinction of how they’re grouping and what they’ve done and what they’ve been involved in over the years. This clearly isn’t a police force in the eyes of the New York Police Department either.”
Last week, the McAllisters received a letter form the head of the Police Federation in New York supporting the case.
The campaign is growing. In addition to Jersey City, New York and other area municipalities have passed resolutions in support of the McAllister family. Governors Jim McGreevey and George Pataki have signed a letter of support along with 30 congressmen. There are also a number of Irish American groups, such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Irish American Unity Conference, pushing forward.
“When you look at the World Trade Center and what went on there,” said McAllister, “certainly there was a massive terrorist act in that sense and the majority of the fireman and policemen who died and emergency workers were of Irish descent. And I have no doubt that those same ones would support us to this day and our efforts here, so the truth of the matter is that we are not a threat to the national security of this country. It’s clear that I have their support and this administration should identify with that and grant us political asylum with this country and prevent us from being deported back to our persecutors.”