October 31, 2007
2 hours, 7 minutes
Ireland House Oral History Collection, Archives of Irish America, New York University
Patrick Hurley was born in Wellington, New Zealand in 1962. His parents were Irish immigrants who went to New Zealand in search of new opportunities following the decline of the Irish economy. When he was four years old, Hurley’s family returned to Ireland to live in Skibbereen, County Cork. His parents opened a dry cleaners in Skibbereen and ran a successful business there for many years.
He attended the University College Cork and graduated in 1986. After graduating college, Hurley faced the predicament of many young educated Irish of the time. A lack of opportunity and a struggling economy left the young Irish with no option but to emigrate. Like many other young Irish men and women, Hurley was no stranger to immigration. His mother, father, and grandparents had all emigrated before him. With this historic familial attachment and several relatives already residing in the States, Hurley naturally looked towards America for new opportunities.
His first job in New York was removing asbestos from city buildings. Despite his education, Hurley’s status as an undocumented immigrant limited the jobs he could take. Many other young Irish immigrants faced the same problem. Hurley found work in the building trades, eventually earning him a union card, which allowed him to receive slightly better pay.
During this time, Hurley frequently socialized with other Irish immigrants in the typically Irish American neighborhoods of New York City. He became increasingly aware of the problem facing his fellow countrymen in America. Once their tourist visas lapsed, Irish immigrants became part of a dangerous limbo where proper health care was not available, deportation was a constant danger, and employers were able to take exploit them.
These concerns and their own experiences as immigrants led Hurley and others to found the Irish Immigration Reform Movement (IIRM). The IIRM was a grassroots organization that hoped to change the status of undocumented Irish immigrants through legislative reform. By rallying well-known Irish Americans in the media and politics, the grassroots effort captured national attention. The IIRM grew to include branches in Boston, Chicago and San Francisco. Some former members of the organization have called Hurley “the face of the IIRM”. For nearly four years, Hurley and other members of the IIRM worked tirelessly for legislative reform.
In 1986, Congressman Brian J. Donnelly (D-MA) attached an amendment to the Immigration Reform and Control Act that allowed for 40,000 non-preference visas to be allotted for residents of 36 countries identified as disadvantaged by the 1965 Immigration Act, including Ireland. An organized application effort by the Irish resulted in 16,000 Irish receiving visas. Ironically, Hurley was not able to obtain a visa because he had been born in New Zealand. The United States State Department identifies immigration status by the country of birth. At a chance meeting with Donnelly at a bar in Washington, D.C, Hurley explained his story. The next year, the Family Unity and Employment Opportunity Immigration Act of 1990 (H.R. 43000) was passed. It granted 50,000 out of 120,000 available visas to the Irish over a period of three years. At the last moment, an amendment was attached for Hurley’s sake that made him eligible for a visa. After nearly four years of hard work, the IIRM finally saw results for all its efforts.
Hurley received his visa in 1991 and officially became a United States citizen in 1997. He remains politically involved and lives in Woodside, Queens with his wife Mary and their two sons.
Excerpt No. 1
The Disadvantages Caused by Kennedy’s 1965 Immigration ActDisc 1, 46:27–50:51
Transcription of Excerpt No. 1
LA: And what about the situation to reach out to other ethnic groups, that whole 35- or 36-disadvantaged?
PH: Well, Brian Donnelly(1) had come up with this program the Donnelly visas about a year before that and how he had got that through was he had…
LA: It was called IRCA(2) right?
LA: …and was it attached to that?
PH: Yeah, he had identified 36 countries including Ireland that, quote, “had been adversely affected,” unquote – I prefer to use the word discriminated myself – by Ted Kennedy’s(3) 1965 immigration Act and, uh, he basically made the point, “Well you know, these countries were adversely affected, you know, we should do something for them.” And that’s how the Donnelly visas came through. And that basically was our premise after that, ok, well we got 10,000 Donnelly visas, whatever, but that’s not going to cure the problem, um, the precedent has now been set, these countries were adversely affected by the ’65 Act, OK? Now something has to be done for them. And that basically was our premise. Legalize the Irish, legalize the people who are here now, and set up some kind of like permanent immigration quota for – that would help the Irish, be it specifically for the Irish or within the context of the 36 country framework. I mean, it would be more passable within the 36 country framework than just for the Irish.
LA: So amnesty was a big part of your push? Well legalizing them once they were here. Was that –
PH: Well… I won’t say it was a big part of it… it was regul– instead of amnesty, I would rather use the word “regularization of status.” I mean first of all, as far as I was concerned at least, an amnesty is something you give to someone who has done wrong. As far as I was concerned, my grandfather fought with the U.S. army on the Western front, and was wounded and received a purple heart. OK? I had intimate links with this country, familial links with this country. I had done nothing wrong. It was Ted Kennedy that did something wrong, not me. He should be getting the amnesty. You know? So as far as I was concerned –
LA: “Forgive him and give me a green card.”
PH: You know? Exactly. Hey Ted, you want to make restitution? Give me a green card. You know? That’s why it makes my blood boil when I see, like, the Irish Voice(4) and Niall O’Dowd(5) and all these people like worshipping Ted Kennedy and all these other people that – Oh! – like really like destroyed the Irish-American community. They destroyed it. I mean, back in sixties we had an Irish American in the White House, you know basically, we had a role, and what did we do? Other people didn’t take it from us! We gave it away, we gave it away! That’s what happened.
LA: I guess no one could have really foreseen what was going to happen in Ireland, and the – what’s the – the law of unintended consequences – putting that bill in and what that would mean down the road when the Irish started going back and they didn’t have those family connections that they probably had along. It really just –
PH: Oh I mean, you know, I think if the – the Irish never really, maybe after the famine a bit alright, but after that like, after the great famine wave the Irish basically immigrated as young single people.
LA: Yeah, oh yeah!
PH: OK? And they didn’t come as families and such OK? So the family link would have broken with the other side. So I think Ted should have realized that –
LA: Oh I see what your – they could bring brothers and sisters, but they couldn’t bring over children. You’re right. Yeah.
PH: If you – Ted should have realized, if you take – if you basically do away with a system that allows young, independent industrious people to come into the country, you know, it’s going to hurt the Irish. He should have realized that, you know?
Excerpt No. 2
The Feeling That Gave Rise to the IIRMDisc 1, 40:49–44:00
Transcription of Excerpt No. 2
LA: So was it to give back to the country, the peop– ’cause you were saying before that you were really looking around seeing what was going to happen to these people, did you feel a commitment to the other people that were over here? It sort of – it sounds like you felt like they were stuck or they were going to get trapped and they didn’t know it?
PH: Yeah, yeah. There was that feel… that like these people are having a good time now but –
LA: When they wake up…
PH: But where are they going to be in ten years time? You know? The recession’s not going to last forever. Then comes the hangover!
LA: Literally and figuratively, yeah!
PH: So basically that was pretty much the feeling that gave rise to the IIRM. And, uh, we basically took it to the Cork Association(6), I mean, I think there’s one particular meeting, the main meeting, in 1987 that’s kind of fixed in history as –
LA: The one at the Cork Association?
PH: Being the date that the IIRM started. But uh… I think it was a bit more complex than that, from what I can recollect. It was like, uh, a series of conversations and meetings with other people, you know –
LA: Did you try to approach other – before you went to that Cork meeting – the AOH(7), or other groups, other sort of established Irish-American groups looking for help, or were you just kicking around ideas?
PH: We were kicking around ideas, we didn’t really start approaching anyone until after that meeting, until after the Cork Association jumped in and after that we started going around to other groups and there was this attitude that… don’t start making noise, keep a low profile, and everything will be okay. Ok? See, the Immigration Reform Control Act had just started kicking in, where they were going to start checking everyone’s paperwork and they –
LA: That was in 1985, well 1986 – IRCA?
PH: ’86. IRCA. I don’t think a lot of people we approached really kind of like comprehended that. That if we didn’t make noise, and something wasn’t done, that basically… that would be it.
LA: No jobs.
[JR unintelligible in background]
PH: No jobs, no – you’re not going to stay here, no community.
LA: And the – New York’s economy at the time was kind of booming, the building trades anyway –
PH: Oh yeah.
LA: …and that was going to fail – not fail, but certainly… slow down… and there would be no jobs.
PH: And there was also a certain attitude too from Irish-Americans as well, that oh my parents came over here, and they worked as laborers, you know, basically at the lower end of the scale, so why wouldn’t that be good enough for you guys, you know? They kind of, you know, didn’t really understand that they were dealing with a different generation, a generation I suppose that had greater expectations than their parents generation.
Excerpt No. 3
Taking Advantage of the Foundation Laid by AncestorsDisc 2, 73:09–74:34
Transcription of Excerpt No. 3
JM: The IIRM was given a hard time about the amount of support that it drew from, um, representatives and senators and people who were deemed to be you know, of, like, an Irish background so some people thought there was, like, an unfair bias, especially since, because they did receive so much attention whereas, like, other immigrant groups that had been established for a while trying to get change like Asian and Latino groups, they weren’t as successful. What did you think of this criticism then, and have your feelings changed at all?
PH: No uh… we had a history in this country that perhaps other groups didn’t have. And, uh, IIRM ironically was enjoying the foundation that was laid by our ancestors, the poor famine immigrants that came off the boats that built the Erie Canal, and built the skyscrapers of New York, went off to fight for the Union and won two and half thousand medals of honor… I mean, we had a history, the foundation had been laid. So when we came in, why, why – I would never apologize for taking advantage of that foundation. The foundation is there, so why not use it?
Excerpt No. 4
Hurley Finally Gets a VisaDisc 2, 74:37–83:00
Transcription of Excerpt No. 4
JM: What sort of problems did you have having been born in New Zealand but holding an Irish passport, what kind of problems did that cause for you?
PH: Well contrary to my accent and everything, as far the U.S. State Department are concerned, I’m a New Zealander only – or was, back then. Ah uh –
LA: So did you hold an Irish passport?
PH: It doesn’t matter. Irrelevant. It’s the country where you were born.
LA: Oh, OK.
LA: That’s how immigration status is determined.
PH: Yeah. So ironically, I did not, I had actually got called in the middle of the whole IIRM thing, I had naively applied for the Donnelly visas. And my brother actually got one because he was born in Ireland. And I got called, when I applied initially, I was, I had no clue about the… it was before the IIRM had started but by the time I got called the IIRM was under way and I had become familiar with the rules and regulations and the way the State Department looks at things, I realized there was no way I could ever take this visa because I knew that if I left the country, right? I go to Dublin, they tell me, sorry there’s no visa and by the way because of all the trouble you started in the United States, you’re never going back there! So I just had to leave it sitting there, I couldn’t take it, so that was like probably about ’89 when I got called and then the following year, the AOH convention, the national AOH convention, was on down in Washington, D.C, and I remember there was a big hullabaloo at the time, the speaker at the time was Thomas Foley…(8) there was something about… he had said something about abortion, or something like that and he done something that was, like, or he had done something or said he was going to support legislature that was, like, pro-abortion, and of course the AOH is a very conservative group and he was supposed to be the guest speaker so they disinvited (sic) him because of that, right?
So there was a big to-do about that, so Brian Donnelly anyway was very close to a man in the Irish embassy called Brendan Scannell, from County Kerry – Brendan is now the ambassador of Tokyo – the Irish ambassador in Tokyo, and uh, he basically, he had told Brendan, “Listen, go to, go to the thing, just meet me in a bar afterwards, the Dubliner, and let me know what happened at the convention.” Because Donnelly apparently, was one of, he was a protégée of Tom Foley’s, ok? So anyway, I had known Brendan for – I got on well you know, I got on well with Brendan even though with the Irish government as a whole I wouldn’t have seen eye-to-eye, but Brendan was you know, from West Kerry, basically he was one of us, he wasn’t part of the establishment as far as we were concerned, you know? I got on well with Brendan, so you know, Brendan was representing the Irish government at the function and afterwards he came down to myself and Jim Larkin – from Connecticut, who was, uh, he was one of the founding members of the IIRM in Connecticut but he was also a member of the AOH Immigration Committee, as was I at that particular time. So I, uh… Brendan came down and he said, “Listen, I’m meeting Brian Donnelly in a bar, down on Washington, come on down afterwards and I’ll introduce you guys.”
So we went down and I, uh, Brendan was, he knew my predicament, so he was trying to help me out, so we got down to the bar, and he pushed me in beside Donnelly, right, so we all sit down, and there was a gentleman – an Irish Australian guy from the Australian embassy – you know, and we sat down and we talked and the beer was flowing, and I got talking to Donnelly, and he said, yeah, he basically asked me, like, “Well, I presume you have a green card, ’cause I see your name in the paper and everything.” And I had heard he had reacted very badly to illegals like, he didn’t like to be put in a position where he was one-on-one with illegals because basically he was, by doing that, here he is a representative of the people and he’s basically meeting with a lawbreaker, right? So I timidly said, “No, I don’t have a green card.” Expecting all hell to break loose and so Donnelly starts telling me about his parents from Roscommon and he kind of had a sneaking suspicion going on that they weren’t legal either! So we’re talking away so then I explained that I had been called for one of your visas but I couldn’t take it up now because I was a New Zealander, as far as the State Department was concerned. So he says, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you, you know, don’t worry!” I thought it was just kind of you know, the beer talk.
LA: Beer talk, yeah.
PH: So fine, it was grand, we all went our separate ways, got back to New York, the bill was being voted on, it was in September, it was being debated on in the House, and I remember I get this frantic call one day from Brendan Scannell at the embassy in Washington and he says, “Listen, remember when we were drinking with Donnelly there in the Dubliner during the summer?” I said, “Yeah.” “Remember you were telling him something about, uh, you got called for the Donnelly visa and you couldn’t take it up because you’re a New Zealander?” I said, “Yeah.” “Well, listen can you put that on paper again because I uh, his office called me up, and, uh, asked me about that, he had been reminded about that, he said, can you put that in paper again exactly what the situation is? Fax it down to me, and I’ll get it over to his people.” Well, so, fine I wrote it down, I wrote down what the actual situation was, fax it down to Scannell and he went to lunch with I think Donnelly, gave it to Donnelly, and Donnelly put some amendment onto the bill as it was going through the house that basically says, if you strip away the legalise, it basically said, if you got called for a Donnelly visa, and you weren’t eligible, now you’re eligible.
PH: So I remember then going to Dublin to collect the visa, so I walk into the embassy, give my paperwork, and I was very nervous because you know the way bureaucracies are –
LA: Yeah, yeah.
PH: Something gets done at the top but then doesn’t filter down! Right? So I go in anyway, and I give my paperwork, and uh, about fifteen minutes later, this lady comes out from behind the counter, “Mr. Hurley, there appears to be a problem here. You were born in New Zealand and New Zealand is not one of the countries that’s eligible for this program.” So I didn’t really want to sound like a know-it-all because the last thing you know, (unintelligible)
PH: …bureaucrats who think they know everything,
LA: Yeah, antagonize…
PH: So I was kind of playing the Paddy who sort of half knew everything so I says to him, “Yeah, but I think there’s some sort of section of the law, you know section 2-1-5-whatever that I think kind of makes me eligible…”
LA: Yeah, “that my friend Brian Donnelly…” yeah!
PH: So everyone goes back and the door was open and I’ll always remember, she’s standing there, there was about two or three of them, they’re huddled around her, and she had my paperwork out and there is this sort of theory debate going on and she comes back out, “It’s okay Mr. Hurley, come back in three hours to collect your visa.”
JM: That’s amazing. What a great story.
- Jennifer Markey (JM)
- Linda Almeida (LA)
- Joe Ready (JR)
- Pat Hurley, 31 October 2007. Photo by Linda Dowling Almeida.
- Pat, Mary, Brian and Conor Hurley. Courtesy of the County Cork Benevolent Patriotic and Protective Association website at http://nycorkassociation.org/CORKPHOTOS.htm
- Congressman Brian Donnelly (D-MA)
- Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986
- Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy (D-MA)
- A weekly Irish-American newspaper based out of New York City.
- Publisher of the Irish Voice newspaper and Irish America magazine.
- The County Cork Benevolent Patriotic and Protective Association, based in Queens, NY.
- Ancient Order of Hibernians is a Catholic, Irish-American fraternal organization founded in New York City.
- Thomas S. Foley, (D-WA), Speaker of the House of Representatives