A prominent Irishman who lived illegally in Boston for more than 15 years has been deported, sparking fear and anxiety within the state’s sizable Irish expat community.
John Cunningham, a 38-year-old electrical contractor, was deported to Ireland on Wednesday night, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed on Thursday.
Cunningham, who overstayed his 90-day visit in 2000, was arrested at his home on June 16 after he failed to appear in court following a $1,300 dispute with a customer.
He appeared on the RTE TV show Prime Time in March about Irish citizens in the US illegally, saying: ‘All of a sudden, you turn around and then too much time has gone by and you start to realize what is going to be in store for yourself for the future.’
Customer Christopher Waltham filed a complaint against Cunningham for depositing a $1,300 check for electrical work he claimed the 38-year-old never did.
Cunningham failed to appear in court in October 2014, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
An ICE spokesperson said Cunningham arrived in Boston from Glencolmcille, Ireland, on the Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens from certain countries to stay in the US for 90 days.
He found work, became a well known member of the ex-pat community in Boston, and paid his taxes, all while lobbying from immigration reform, the Boston Globereported.
His arrest and deportation sent shock waves through the Irish community, and Ronnie Millar of the Irish International Immigrant Center, said: ‘If they’ll go after John Cunningham, they’ll go after anybody.
Advocates of the Irish community in Massachusetts, home to an estimated 12,000 of the nation’s 50,000 Irish living in the U.S. illegally, complained the punishment overlooked Cunningham’s positive contributions.
Cunningham had been a past chairman of the local Gaelic Athletic Association, which organized traditional Irish sports competitions.
The Boston-based Irish International Immigrant Center said it’s ‘a sad day when our government imprisons immigrants who contribute so much to our country and society.’
The Irish International Immigrant Center was among the groups that organized a rally in front of downtown Boston’s Irish Famine Memorial on Thursday in opposition to President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.