Social activists calling for 'pathway to residency' for up to 3,000 children here
Social activists are urging the Government to bring in legislation that would give thousands of illegal immigrants' children the right to remain in Ireland.
Officials from Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) and the Children's Rights Alliance held a press conference yesterday, calling for a "pathway to residency" for the estimated 2,000 to 3,000 undocumented children of migrants who were born in Ireland or who have lived here for years.
"We're asking the Justice Minister to recognise the time they have spent here," said MRCI director Edel McGinley.
A survey of 108 parents of undocumented children released by MRCI revealed the overwhelming majority (68pc) of the youngsters were born in the State, with just under a third born outside of Ireland.
Seventy-eight per cent of those born abroad have lived here for more than five years, with some having been resident for more than 16 years.
Many of their parents came to Ireland on a tourist visa during the boom years and were promised a work permit by their employers, Ms McGinley told the Herald.
However, once they were here they found they had no legal right to work.
"They were misled by many employers," she said.
Regardless of their legal status, many stayed after bringing their children with them or having children here.
Now they and their children are living in limbo and in constant fear of being deported.
Children's Rights Alliance chief executive Tanya Ward said: "When you're an undocumented young person you can't fulfil your potential.
"Every part of your life is impacted, including your education, future career and your ability to take part in your community."
She said that three years ago, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child highlighted this issue and urged Ireland to introduce accessible pathways to immigration status.
"These children need those solutions so that they can get on with living the full lives that they deserve," she added.
Rashmi (24) moved to Dublin with her family from Sri Lanka when she was eight.
She considers Dublin her home, yet despite completing her Leaving Cert and being accepted at two universities here, she cannot progress the same way as her peers because her immigration status prevents her from working or attending third-level education.
"It's a constant burden on you. It's a cloud hanging over you," she said.
"I've been here for 16 years. We don't want to be undocumented. We want to be a contributing member of society."
Asked why the Government should forego immigration law to accommodate undocumented migrants and their children, Ms McGinley said: "The immigration system is very hard to navigate. There isn't a procedure for someone to have their case considered.
"We have very limited legal avenues to come to Ireland."