September 8, 2007

Aloha mai kakou (greetings to all)

My name is Joseph Donaghy, and I am an Assistant Professor of Hawaiian Language at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. Some of you may know me by my Hawaiian name Keola. It is not my legal name, but given to me in my youth by a Hawaiian family that I was very close to, and I have used it for many years.

Late last year I applied to the Ph.d. program in ethnomusicology at University College Cork, and received my word of my acceptance early this year. I immediately contacted the International Student Office and began to make arrangements to travel to Cork and begin study in September 2007. Very early in this process our contact there became aware that my wife and daughter traveling with me could be an issue. She made several calls to the Gardaí immigration office, and got several different answers. After several months she indicated that their local Immigration had checked with GNIB Head Office, and they were informed that “if the student had sufficient funds and the child was registered in a private school there shouldn’t be a difficulty.”

We were checked around for schools for our daughter Denyce (Hawaiian name Malia), and enrolled her in St. Aloysius’ school near the University. The principal informed us that Denyce could enroll in the school, and that we could reimburse the school the capitation fee that they receive from the state, along with some other administrative fees. She stated that there was plenty of room in the school’s transition year program, and added that “her presence here will add to the educational experience of our Transition Year students and we are delighted to have her on roll.”

To cover the financial side, we brought with us a bit over $4,000 Euro in cash, a bank statement showing a balance of over $10,000 US that we would be able to wire to an Irish bank upon arrival, and a bank statement showing a credit line of over $55,000 US available to us. We did this to be able to demonstrate that we had the financial resources to live in Ireland without being a burden to the state.

Upon our arrival on September 7 we went straight to immigration, and were greeted by an immigration officer. We showed him our passports, I identified myself as someone who was accepted as a student at UC-Cork. I explained that as we were instructed that we had exit tickets to England within three months, and that we had arranged for our daughter to attend St. Aloysius’ school in Cork. He asked how much we were paying and told him that we were told we only needed to reimburse about 500 Euro, the amount of the capitation fee that the school would normally receive from the state. To make sure that we were safe, I contacted the Southern regional office of the Department of Education and Science and explained our situation. They told me that we were free to enroll Denyce in any school we wished.

I don’t recall at what point specifically I detected that there was a problem. He remained very courteous, but the officer was clearly not happy with what I was telling him, and uttered “no no no no no” and told us we could not come into the country, and that dependents of people traveling on student visas were not allowed into the country. I asked if they could come just on a three month visa, and he replied no. He said that I could stay in the country, but my wife and daughter would have to leave. I explained that was not an option for us, and that if we were not allowed in the country that I would have to leave with them. I asked if I could come in on just a visitor visa with them and work the situation regarding school out later, and was told no.

We were asked to stay in the waiting area while the several officers processed passengers from our large flight and several others. When the crowds subsided the officer came over and talked to us. He remained very pleasant and courteous throughout the entire encounter, but explained that if we were paying only 500 Euro that St. Aloysius’ was not a private school and that our fees would be much higher. I produced a short email from the principal of St. Aloysius stating that they had accepted Denyce. He replied that this was insufficient. I told him that the International Student Office at UC-Cork had worked with the immigration office in Cork and that they were told that my wife and daughter could stay as long as they were not a burden on the state. I asked if his speaking with our contact there would help, and he said it would not. Our contact there did call on our behalf later, and was informed of the law, and that there was nothing else to be done. It was quite clear to me at this point that the officer had made up his mind and that nothing I could say would convince him otherwise.

The officer informed us that the only flight back to Los Angeles had already left, and that while my wife and daughter would be allowed to stay the night in Dublin, I would be required to remain in detention until the next day. I asked if they could get us to anywhere else in the US that day. He replied that they were obligated to return us to our port of departure, but that if we wished to be returned to someplace closer, that was our prerogative, but they would not pay for us to get back to LA. I said that was not an issue, and if possible we could go back to New York, Boston or Chicago, in that order of preference. We ended up being sent back to New York later that afternoon.

He did return a few times to check on us, another officer came by and asked if we were hungry and needed anything to eat. We have no issue at all with any of the officers that we encountered, and we in turn treated them with the same consideration. Perhaps I should have pressed our case harder, but as a former police officer myself we remained respectful of his authority. He did mention at some point in the process that he had checked with his superior, who supported his decision to deny us entry. I offered to show him some of the correspondence I had with both UCC and St. Aloysius’ but he did not wish to look at it. I never received the opportunity to show him any of our financial documents, either.

At one point in our conversation I mentioned that it had been suggested to us to simply claim we were coming as visitors in Dublin and deal with immigration when we got to Cork. He asked who told us to do that, and if it was anyone from the university. It was not, and I don’t even recall which of the many people I’ve spoken to on the internet while we were planning our trip suggested this. Regardless, we never considered trying to be deceptive, and the price of our honesty was being refused entry. I was flabbergasted that the reason given by the officer on our refusal letters was to cite the Immigration Act 2004, section K. which states:

That there is reason to believe that the non-national intends to enter the State for purposes other than those expressed by the non-national.

He never once indicated to me that he felt we were being untruthful, and that the sole reason for our being refused entry was the fact that dependents were not allowed to accompany those traveling with student visas. While I noticed this during out detention, I did not challenge him on it. There were several individuals being held in a small room adjacent to the waiting area, and I believe that if I challenged his authority or opinion that perhaps I would be forced to join them and leave my wife and daughter alone in the waiting area. My daughter was particularly distraught, and did not want to have her see them taking me away to a different holding area. We had also been up for over 36 hours traveling for over 24 of them from Hawai‘i with a brief visit with my brother during our LA stopover, and I had gone nearly sleepless the entire time.

While we had no working phone, there was Internet access in the area, so I quickly contacted my many friends in Ireland, asking if they knew anyone who could possibly help. They did their best but to no avail. After about two hours the officer came by and mentioned that it seemed half of the island had called on my behalf, but that they all got the same answer. He did not state what that answer was, but I knew that it was the same on we had received – that would have to leave.

We were taking to an Aer Lingus plane shortly before 5PM. I thanked the officer for his kindness before we left. It had been one of the worst days of my life, but it certainly could have been worse if he and the other officers had not been as courteous as they were. We arrived at JFK airport in New York later that evening, and are currently staying at the Crown Plaza Hotel in the JFK area. Don’t let the name fool you, the hotel is hardly royal in stature. We will remain here into early next week, hoping for a miracle that will allow us to return to Ireland. If it doesn’t happen, we will likely return to Hawai‘i late next week.

As disappointed as I am for myself, I am devastated for my daughter, who was really looking forward to spending a year among students in a foreign land, and being an ambassador for bother her own school and Hawai‘i. My wife was looking forward to spending a year exploring Cork, at no cost to the state, learning the arts, and probably spending a lot of time with the young children of our many friends there.

I understand the need for immigration laws and officers. We went to Ireland in good faith, believing that we had done everything required of us to enter and stay in the country. We were completely honest with the immigration officer, no matter what he thinks to the contrary. If anyone reading this letter can help in any way, please contact me at donaghy@hawaii.edu or keola@nahenahe.net. Please feel free to forward this letter to anyone you think could help us. I can send you our cell phone number. Unfortunately the phone in our hotel room is not functioning. I have mentioned no names in this letter because this is not a personal issue. I can send the name of the immigration officer privately if it would help.

Mahalo nui loa, go raibh mile maith agat.
Keola, Marie and Denyce Donaghy
Hilo, Hawai‘i

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6 thoughts on “The Donaghy Saga In Ireland

  1. Hi. Sorry that happened to you. I think I would really put it down to a vast cultural difference. When I was in the middle of 5th grade, my family moved to Ireland: father, mother, two brothers, and myself. There were a few Americans there as well. If you need help getting over and trying again, I know many Irish people, as I actually did attend Irish schools from that point on until college, and my parents continued to live there for a long time after. When I came back to America I had a TERRIBLE time adjusting to culture shock which I hadn’t anticipated at all, thinking that both countries were civilized, first world, etc. But as you discovered, unfortunately, there are differences in outlook. If you do want to try, I’m sure you would love the experience, and I will be happy to put you in touch with people who perhaps could better help you. And I apologize for your troubles thus far.

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