Bernadette Devlin McAliskey is a legendary figure in Irish and British politics. She is a hero of the jobless in Northern Ireland. McAliskey became a member of British Parliament at age 21, the youngest person ever elected to that post. Because of their work in opposing British rule she and her husband were shot by a death squad in their home in 1981.
The famed activist and Irish civil rights leader has traveled to America for the last 30 years and has been given the keys to the cities of San Francisco and New York.
Yet on Feb. 21, on her first trip to the U.S. since 9/11, 55-year-old McAliskey was barred from entering and forcibly deported from a country she had visited countless times before.
In a March 6 interview with The Blanket McAliskey said she was on her way to New York from Dublin, arriving in Chicago first. She was on holidays. When she arrived in Chicago, immigration officials informed her that a fax from Dublin indicated that she was “ineligible for entry” and should be “apprehended and returned.”
McAliskey told The Blanket, the officials “were very, very jumpy. They were clearly under the impression that I had evaded Immigration in some way, that I had fraudulently filled out a form in some way, and that I was a threat to the security of the United States of America.
“I attempted to explain to them that I was in fact eligible for entry, had not fraudulently filled out any forms and was not a threat to anybody’s security,” she said.
McAliskey continued to describe the awful reality of a post-9/11 U.S. “I was informed that I had no rights, that in fact nobody who is not a United States citizen any longer has any rights in America since Al-Qaeda, that what I had was a number of choices. My choice was to sit there quietly until they arranged a flight and put me back on it and to say nothing and to speak to nobody.”
Insisting she did have rights, McAliskey told the officials “No, I have rights here. I would like to contact somebody from the embassy. I would like to contact a lawyer. I have no intention of going back just because you tell me I have to go back.”
The officials then said that if she insisted she had rights she “would be handcuffed and imprisoned until such time as they arranged a flight back to Ireland,” McAliskey said.
One of the guys told her “Do not anger my boss. Please do not make him angry, do not speak about rights, you don’t have any. Don’t contradict him. Last week he fired a shot over the head of a Russian gentleman.”
McAliskey said, “Then I was told that I would be photographed, questioned and fingerprinted and I said ‘No I won’t.’ Again the guy said to me ‘Ma’am, when are you going to understand this? You do not have any rights, you have choices. Your choice is to voluntarily be fingerprinted and photographed, to be fingerprinted and photographed under duress or to be forcibly fingerprinted and photographed. Those are your choices. Then you will be going back to Ireland.’”
McAliskey was never allowed to look at the fax from Dublin.
“This wasn’t about me, this wasn’t about me being against the war in Iraq, this wasn’t about me and my history in Northern Ireland. They didn’t know who I was. Only at the very end, when I am sitting ten minutes off the flight, the guy came back to me and he said ‘I have got your whole profile. I can see why you are angry. There is nothing in your profile that says you are ineligible for the United States. You are quite clearly not a threat to the United States.’”
McAliskey insists the actions “had to do with how jumpy and scared and unnerved and irrational the Americans are at this time.”
McAliskey is pursuing the case through the Irish courts and filed a formal complaint with the U.S. consulate in Dublin. She suspects that the U.S. immigration and political control reaches part of Dublin. “I must have some right under the Irish Constitution to know who[sent the fax], why they did it and what remedy I have. So I will be writing to Department of Foreign Affairs, but my suspicion is that we have leased that portion to America and that we have no protection of our rights against American Immigration at Dublin Airport.”
The Blanket (lark.phoblact.net) is a journal of protest and dissent