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'I Wouldn't Move Back': Deported Irish Man Creates A Life In His New Home

Dylan O'Riordan outside Freeney's Bar in the roaring heart of Galway, Ireland.
John Burnett
Dylan O'Riordan outside Freeney's Bar in the roaring heart of Galway, Ireland.

When NPR last heard from young Irishman Dylan O'Riordan, he was sitting forlornly in a jailhouse in Boston waiting to be deported to the country of his birth.

His parents brought him from County Galway to Boston when he was 12. He lived there quietly for eight years going to school, working for a roofer, and getting married.

Then last year, O'Riordan had a scrape with the law and got picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, whose agents have been targeting anyone in the country illegally as part of the Trump administration's deportation dragnet.

They put him on a one-way Aer Lingus flight to Ireland. And that's where we pick up the story.

I'm sitting at a table at Freeney's Bar in the roaring heart of Galway. A banjo trio is busking nearby. A Gaelic football game is on TV.

The last time I saw him, he was a sad, pale detainee with a shaved head in a yellow jail jumpsuit.

O'Riordan in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in Boston earlier this year.
John Burnett / NPR
O'Riordan in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in Boston earlier this year.

All of a sudden, up walks a 20-year-old fellow wearing an English football jersey, with a full head of hair, a ruddy complexion, and a toothy smile.

I comment on how much better he looks.

"Thank you, I feel it. I'm just a lot more happier than I was. It feels a lot better being back out," he says.

O'Riordan's case is unusual.

Nine out of 10 deportations are to Mexico and Central America to places with poor job prospects and predatory criminal gangs.

The U.S. government ordered him removed to a peaceful, prosperous nation, and he has moved in with relatives in one of the most popular cities in Europe.

"I wouldn't move back," he declares, gripping a pint glass. "Even if I was given [U.S.] citizenship tomorrow, I wouldn't move back."

He continues: "You never see any real trouble like you see around parts of Boston [where] there's a lot of gang violence. But here everybody gets along with everybody. You never see any trouble around Galway."

O'Riordan dreaded the day of his deportation, January 26, but it wasn't as bad as he expected. The two ICE agents who handcuffed him and drove him to Logan Airport gave him a cigarette and bought him Dunkin Donuts. He says they were sympathetic when they learned he wasn't responsible for his unlawful status in the country; his parents brought him here as a child. One officer even seemed embarrassed by the task at hand.

"He says, 'If it was up to me, I'd be going out looking for people who deserve to be deported back to where they came from,'" O'Riordan recalls. "'This is the part of the job I hate, when I see someone who really doesn't deserve it, who really has no major crimes or anything like that.'"

As O'Riordan watched the news from across the Atlantic, he saw the crackdown on illegal immigration in the U.S. — in which he was nabbed — grow even more extreme. The Trump administration began its "zero tolerance" policy that led to the separation of some 2,500 children from their parents at the Southwest border.

"When I first seen it I thought, okay, this has to be fake news," he said. "Then I seen it on CNN. It's real! The kids in the cages down in Texas. It's ridiculous what's going on down there."

In Galway, O'Riordan skateboards. He goes to the pub for a pint. He watches football. And he's about to start a new job as a mason. He terribly misses his wife, Brenna, and his infant daughter, Delilah. He FaceTimes them in Boston every night. He's excited that they have plans to move to Ireland later this year.

Dylan O'Riordan knows, all things considered, he has it so much better than the vast majority of immigrants being sent home from the U.S. these days.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.