Irish activist and former Member of Parliament, Bernadette Devlin McAliskey was detained by immigration officials in Chicago, February 21, and denied entry into the United States allegedly on “national security” grounds.
According to her daughter, Deidre, two INS officers threatened to arrest, jail, and even shoot the legendary civil rights campaigner when she arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. McAliskey (56) was then photographed, finger-printed and returned to Ireland against her will on the grounds that the State Department had declared that she “poses a serious threat to the security of the United States.”
“Mommy was this close to being locked up,” said Deidre, Saturday in New York. The two were traveling together from Ireland to the US to attend a christening,
According to daughter Deirdre (27) the McAliskeys cleared US immigration in Ireland prior to boarding, and received routine permission to travel, but upon their arrival they were stopped at baggage claim. Detained by two INS officers, they were told that the order to bar Bernadette McAliskey came from US officials in Dublin.
During the dispute that followed, Deirdre says one INS officer used “very thinly veiled threats” against her mother, including, “if you interrupt me one more time I’m going to slam the cuffs on you and haul your ass to jail.”
One officer, says Deirdre, “pulled his chair right up to mommy and I heard him say ‘Don’t make my boss angry. I saw him fire a shot at a guy last week and he has the authority to shoot.'”
Denied access to a lawyer, Bernadette was sent back to Ireland. “She’s not in the best of health and the 13 hours of travel put her at further risk,” Deirdre says.
A tireless advocate for the Irish nationalist cause, at the age of 21, McAliskey was the youngest person ever to be elected to the British parliament. A witness to the deaths of 13 civilians shot dead by British paratroopers during a civil rights march in Derry, Northern Ireland in 1972, McAliskey narrowly avoided death a second time when she and her husband were shot in their home by a loyalist death-squad in 1981. Deirdre, who was present, was five years old at the time.
Famously articulate, McAliskey has been frequent visitor to the US for the past thirty years, although this was her first visit in over eighteen months. She has been awarded the symbolic “keys” to several US cities, including New York and San Francisco. On her first trip, in 1971, the young McAliskey made civil rights history when she refused to be met by Chicago’s Mayor Richard J. Daly on account of his treatment of opponents of the Vietnam War.
On Monday, Deirdre intends to consult with a lawyer in New York. She has several questions, among them: Is there or is there not a State Department Review in her mothers’s file? If there was nothing there on Friday morning, when she was cleared for travel by US authorities in Dublin, why did INS authorities in Chicago exclude her later that same afternoon?
Does the US government consider Bernadette Devlin McAliskey a security risk? “I can’t imagine what threat they could think she poses to US security,” says Deirdre, “Unless the threat is knowing too much and saying it too well.”
When the McAliskeys were detained in O’Hare airport, Deirdre says that the INS were also questioning four young men “with Arabic sounding names.” She believes that the four were later taken to jail. The McAliskeys, who have a long history fighting government repression on both sides of the Atlantic, are concerned about the denial of all visitors’ rights. Perhaps, says Deirdre, they are a position to raise a ruckus that other people can’t.
“However INS is required to deal with things, and whatever their protocol may be, it is not part of their legal procedures that you should be threatened with jail and threatened with being shot,” says Deirdre. At this point, she is urging visitors to the US to think twice, “if the state this jumpy, I’d not advise anyone to come here unless absolutely necessary,” she says.
Bernadette McAliskey is now in the process of filing a formal complaint with the US consulate in Dublin.