Homeland Security Won't Let a Former IRA Man Out of Prison

After living in the U.S. for 25 years, Pól Brennan is now stuck on the Texas-Mexico border

Still, in light of the peace process in Northern Ireland, in 2000 President Clinton placed Brennan and a handful of other former IRA prisoners in "deferred action" status that allowed them to get work permits and stay in America indefinitely. While this was viewed at the time as a victory for former IRA prisoners, the celebration has proven short-lived.

Angelique Montaño is an attorney with Houston immigration and family law firm Tindall & Foster and, although she is not involved in Brennan's case, is very experienced with cases involving deportation.

"Deferred action is not a green card," she explains. "It's not intended to be a long-term benefit that you can eventually get citizenship through. Basically, it's a political tool."

Pól Brennan just before his arrest in South Texas this year...
Courtesy Pól Brennan
Pól Brennan just before his arrest in South Texas this year...
...he is pictured around the time he came in from the cold in the 1990s.
Courtesy Pól Brennan
...he is pictured around the time he came in from the cold in the 1990s.

And two years ago, Brennan got in trouble again: He was convicted of misdemeanor assault in California after a fight with a contractor over $1,000 in wages. He was levied a $1,500 fine and sentenced to 500 hours of community service.

But if the Feds were so keen on deporting Brennan, why didn't they do so then? Why would they wait until he stumbled into the Sarita checkpoint?

Montaño says that arrests like Brennan's are not unusual today. "All the databases are coming together and everyone's criminal information is coming up everywhere," she says. It's not uncommon, she says, for officials to wait for immigrants to come to them in airports or checkpoints or border crossings, rather than seek them out for arrest. "Whether you have a work permit or green card or whatever, they don't care that you've been running around free," she says. "It's not until those specific incidents that things get triggered."

In June, in the Harlingen court of immigration Judge Howard E. Achtsam, prosecutors from Homeland Security reactivated the deportation case against Brennan based on his fraudulent entrance to America back in 1983, and opposed bail.

Byrne, Brennan's attorney, fired back that he had met bail twice in California and that he had a family and a job waiting for him in California.

Achtsam denied bail, ruling that Brennan was a flight risk based on his escape and a danger to society based on the assault.

Morrison, the Thar Saile activist, says the denial of bail is "really reprehensible." "They're saying he's a flight risk," he fumes. "For heaven's sake, he was an extraditee. Where's he gonna flee to? And what is he gonna run from? His wife? His community? His source of income?"

Brennan's next court date comes in August. Byrne has filed a request for an adjustment of status — he has moved for Brennan to receive a green card based on his marriage of 19 years. He has also requested a change of venue to federal immigration court in northern California. Montaño sees the wisdom in that maneuver. "If it comes to a court challenge where he has to go through all his removal things to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, it is the most pro-immigrant court circuit in the United States, if you can say that about any of them," she says. "The Fifth Circuit, which is Texas, is one of the most conservative."

Brennan is heartened by what is happening on his behalf on the outside. About 600 people have signed an online petition in his support. America's largest Irish-American group, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, has come to his defense. In contrast to his California incarceration in the 1990s, when only Irish ethnics and the likes of Noam Chomsky and Nation columnist Alexander Cockburn came to his aid, this time around Brennan also has support from the political right: In June, Long Island Congressman Peter King, the ranking GOP member of the House Homeland Security Committee, told the Belfast Telegraph that Brennan should get bail.

Nevertheless, the wheels are still grinding toward deportation. Brennan says that he was recently asked by a prison official, acting on orders from Judge Achtsam, whether he would prefer being sent to Ireland or Northern Ireland. Brennan declined to answer.

Save for a few weeks hiding out back in his IRA days, he has never lived in the Irish Republic and would have to start from scratch there. In Belfast, he possibly could have to pay some debts to a society he still believes is illegitimate, but he does have a large family there, including an aging father he hasn't seen in years. "If I go there, I might have to do some time," he says. "But I would get to see my family."

His American wife would have to start over and Brennan would have to scrap his life in California. His employer there has spoken highly of him. So have his supervisors at Oakland's Chabot Planetarium, where Brennan volunteers in order to indulge his love of the stars.

Once a terrorist, always a terrorist, and no matter if America was never your target. Illegal immigrants who are convicted of crimes must be deported, no matter how minor the crime. That's the way Homeland Security sees cases like this. Like Javert in Les Misérables, its goal is "not to be humane, not to be great, not to be sublime; it [is] to be irreproachable."

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I'm probably the only person here who was born and raised in Ireland during the Troubles, so I want to state for the record that during the course of the Troubles, Mr. Brennan and his IRA comrades  murdered more Irish men, women, and children, than the British. And still do. Can you guess the damage those 23 pound bomb would have caused? If not, look up Bloody Friday, La Mon, the Remembrance Day Bombing, Omagh Bombing. This is the only charge he was jailed for. The IRA were kill Irish Catholics as well as Protestants - we have no idea how many murders he participated in. At least he gets his life - not many IRA victims did. You do the crime, you do the time.