Nearly 630 young people born in Ireland applied for legal status under last year’s amnesty scheme for undocumented immigrants, shows a government analysis of applications.

The document, released under the Freedom of Information Act, doesn’t say how they ended up without status.

But in a referendum in June 2004, Irish voters opted to deny children of immigrants the automatic right to citizenship by birth, inserting the twenty-seventh amendment to the Irish constitution. 

Since that change kicked in, kids born here to paperless parents have had to navigate childhood without Irish citizenship and, at times, without even legal residency, as their statuses are tied to their parents’. 

Children born to migrant parents have the right to Irish citizenship if their parents amass three years of living on a valid immigration stamp. It used to be five years, until the end of July this year.

But for kids born here whose parents live and work here without immigration papers, whether it is five years or three years, makes no difference. That route is still not an option.

In April 2023, then-Minister for Justice Simon Harris said that the 2022 amnesty scheme was a “once in a generation” pathway.

Advocates working for migrant rights say that children with undocumented parents who were born on Irish soil don’t deserve to live without the safety and security of legal status.

Some kids might not fully grasp that they aren’t citizens until it’s time for an international school trip and they have to bring in passports, said Fiona Hurley, the CEO of the migrant rights non-profit NASC.  

Neil Bruton, campaigns coordinator at Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI), said other European countries offer paths to normalcy for kids like these, based on the years they have spent in school or the country. 

“Ireland does not have this”, but it should, he said.  

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice didn’t address a question asking if there are any more plans to help kids who were born here avoid living undocumented long-term. 

Where you belong

In the six-month window for which the amnesty scheme was open, more than 8,000 people of all ages applied, according to official figures.

About 1,130 of those who applied were kids, shows the department’s analysis.

Among the 628 applicants who were born here, 132 ticked that they were Brazilian, 96 said they were Irish, and 78 said they were Pakistani.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice meanwhile said 107 applicants “self-reported” their kids as Irish. Some of those had Irish citizenship, while others didn’t, they said. 

Those kids who already had citizenship were recorded as refused, and the others were still considered as part of a family application, they said. 

“The remaining children may have been born in Ireland but do not hold Irish citizenship and instead actually hold their parent’s nationality,” they said.

Neither the data from last year’s undocumented amnesty nor past research shows a clear picture of how many undocumented young people live in Ireland.

The amnesty scheme wasn’t open to all. 

Applicants had to have lived undocumented in Ireland for four uninterrupted years if they had no kids, and three years if they did have children. Applicants’ family members had to have lived undocumented for at least two years.

MRCI did publish findings of a survey focused on undocumented children in July 2019. Of the 185 children whose parents completed that survey, 68 percent were born in Ireland. Most of those kids were older than five.

Again and again?

The amnesty scheme helped lots of people – as many as it left behind, says Bruton, campaigns coordinator at MRCI. 

But it won’t change anything in the future. “And others will continue to come or be born here,” he said. “They will continue to spend their childhood undocumented in Ireland.”

An ongoing amnesty scheme would solve that, says Bruton. It could have the same conditions as the 2022 one, he said. “But with no closing date.”

That way, people could just apply when they meet its conditions, he said, and no kid or adult would live undocumented for long stretches.

Some European countries – like Spain, France, and Portugal – have rolling amnesty schemes, Bruton said.

After running several schemes, Spain opted to carve out a permanent legal framework for undocumented migrants to apply for status, says an EU-funded research paper exploring member states’ policies. 

Other countries, Bruton says, lay out a path out of limbo for kids based on years spent in school or the country.

In Luxembourg, he said, it’s four years in school. While in Norway, it’s four years of residence and one year in school, Bruton said. 

Hurley, the CEO of NASC, said kids who end up living undocumented for a long time miss out on more than an Irish passport. “It leaves them in limbo in terms of work, welfare, travel, healthcare, education, and social inclusion.”

In 2020, Alexandre Henrique de Paula, an undocumented immigrant at the time, said his son’s school had kept asking for the kid’s PPS number, and he kept brushing it off. They didn’t have one. 

The kid also had a skin disease, and for treatment, they had to go down the more expensive private route, even though de Paula worked and paid his taxes, he said at the time.

Hurley, of NASC, says she is hopeful that the government will offer more opportunities for undocumented people to get status.

As time passes, more kids are going to be born here, spend their childhoods here, yet flounder with immigration problems, she said.  

Kids who lose touch with their parents amid family breakdown face an even thornier path towards legal residency, said Hurley. 

“They have to try to establish their citizenship of another country that they may be wholly unfamiliar with,” she said.

Shamim Malekmian covers the immigration beat for Dublin Inquirer. Reach her at shamim@dublininquirer.com

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