Ireland House Oral History Collection

Patrick Hurley

Pat Hurley, 31 October 2007. Photo by Linda Dowling Almeida.


October 31, 2007

2 hours, 7 minutes

Preferred Citation:

Ireland House Oral History Collection, Archives of Irish America, New York University

Biographical Note:

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.

Click on image to enlarge.

  1. Pat, Mary, Brian and Conor Hurley. Courtesy of the County Cork Benevolent Patriotic and Protective Association website at


Photo Credit:

  1. Pat Hurley, 31 October 2007. Photo by Linda Dowling Almeida.
  2. Pat, Mary, Brian and Conor Hurley. Courtesy of the County Cork Benevolent Patriotic and Protective Association website at


  1. Congressman Brian Donnelly (D-MA)
  2. Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986
  3. Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy (D-MA)
  4. A weekly Irish-American newspaper based out of New York City.
  5. Publisher of the Irish Voice newspaper and Irish America magazine.
  6. The County Cork Benevolent Patriotic and Protective Association, based in Queens, NY.
  7. Ancient Order of Hibernians is a Catholic, Irish-American fraternal organization founded in New York City.
  8. Thomas S. Foley, (D-WA), Speaker of the House of Representatives