He Asked for Asylum; Now He’s Fighting I.N.S.

Here’s a deportation case you’ll never hear about on those cable television screamfests, but if you haven’t entirely given up on the idea of justice, it surely is worth a scream or two.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service, under the jurisdiction of Attorney General Janet Reno, is spending taxpayer dollars to split up a family and ship the father back to Northern Ireland-a place he fled a dozen years ago after one of the local death squads fired 25 shots at his children. Though they’re not New Yorkers, the family’s case has been taken up by most of this state’s U.S. Representatives, including some, like Nydia Velázquez, who have no reason to scrounge for Irish-American votes.

Malachy and Bernadette McAllister weren’t home on that night in October 1988 when the would-be assassins-members of one of Northern Ireland’s more bloodthirsty Loyalist gangs-dropped by for a visit. The gunmen opened fire on the couple’s children and Ms. McAllister’s mother, who was minding them. Nobody was hurt, but when members of the local police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, showed up to investigate, they curiously found no evidence of an attempted mass murder. Of course they didn’t-it turns out that members of the Northern Ireland police force encouraged the murder gang. The family got the hint. They fled Belfast for Canada and then arrived in America in 1996, settling in New Jersey. They filed for the political asylum they would seem to deserve; instead, the Clinton administration-which has done so much to bring peace to Mr. McAllister’s native land-is trying to deport him.

I’ve met Mr. McAllister, a friendly man with a well-trimmed beard. He was the intended target of those gunmen so many years ago, having served four years in prison after he confessed to the attempted murder of a police officer. But that confession (along with dozens like it) was obtained after an interrogation process that has earned the condemnation of human rights organizations throughout Europe. (Those who saw Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance in the Jim Sheridan film In the Name of the Father have some idea of what Mr. McAllister went through.) Upon his release, the R.U.C.-a police force so discredited it is in the process of being reorganized-supplied Mr. McAllister’s address to its friends and allies in the Protestant-Loyalist murder gangs.

It is because of Mr. McAllister’s “record” that the I.N.S. and Ms. Reno wish to put him on the next plane to Belfast. He already has been denied political asylum by a judge in New Jersey who ruled that Mr. McAllister is a British subject, not an Irish citizen. (A tricky matter: Northern Ireland may fall within the confines of the United Kingdom, but anyone born in Ireland is a citizen of the Irish Republic.) As this column is being written (June 16), Ms. McAllister and her children are in a courtroom in Newark, asking the government to grant them political asylum. The government, in its munificence, has divided the case. If Ms. McAllister and her family are, in fact, given asylum, and Mr. McAllister is deported, the family will either have to split up or return to Belfast together to face the dangers they know so well. It is worth noting that two of Mr. McAllister’s youngest children have no memory of Belfast; they are thoroughly American kids-in a recent family portrait, one of them is wearing a Jets cap, the other a Yankees shirt. They believe (and why not?) that the gunmen who invaded their home in 1988 are still waiting for them, and in no mood to waste any more ammunition. Yes, there is peace in Northern Ireland these days, but the peace process couldn’t save attorney Rosemary Nelson, killed in 1999 when a Loyalist death squad put a bomb in her car- it blew up a few hundred yards from her child’s school.

The New York City Council, at the urging of member Kathryn Freed, has taken up the McAllisters’ case, with gratifying results. The City Council is an easy target when it takes up the Big Issues that are far from the members’ usual humdrum concerns. The spectacle of the council weighing in on international issues via long-winded speeches and righteous resolutions is not, it must be said, unfailingly gratifying.

In this case, however, a number of City Council members have sided with common sense and humanity. The council’s international relations committee passed a resolution calling on the Clinton administration to grant the family political asylum, with City Council member José Rivera of the Bronx saying that if Ms. Reno wants the McAllisters deported from New Jersey, he’d be happy to make them welcome in the Bronx.

There’s also a picture making the rounds these days of Mr. McAllister shaking hands with a certain Senate candidate with White House connections. Maybe this whole sorry affair will have a happy ending after all.