For Alexandre Henrique de Paula, last Wednesday morning started out like the Wednesday morning before that — quiet and uneventful.
He dropped his 11-year-old son Cauã to school and headed to his job at a car wash, where he’s been working since 2017.
That morning, however, a group of men, some of them wearing Garda uniforms, visited a car dealership next to his workplace.
They were checking everyone’s identification cards, including those of car-wash employees.
De Paula says he was petrified when officers asked for his ID. He, his wife Vanessa and their son are undocumented immigrants living in Dublin city.
“I was very nervous and scared, but also frustrated because I had to look calm and couldn’t express how I was feeling,” says de Paula in Portuguese to his sister, Renata Ribeiro de Paula, who is translating for him.
De Paula says he told Gardaí that he was undocumented. He was instructed to go to the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) office on Burgh Quay that coming Monday, 12 October. He’s since been given a new date of Wednesday, 2 December to attend.
If deported, he says he’s worried most about taking his son, who has a respiratory ailment, back to Brazil, which has had the second highest number Covid-19 deaths in the world, according to the World Health Organization. Higher than India, for example, which has a population about seven times larger than Brazil’s.
For de Paula, a paperless migrant with an ill child, fighting a potential deportation order to return to a Covid-19 hotspot feels deeply personal.
No Explicit Legal Protection
De Paula says he does not have a home in Brazil anymore, so if they are deported in December, the family will have to stay with his mother, who is quarantining.
He says that if it wasn’t for his son’s illness coupled with a global pandemic, he wouldn’t fight the deportation order.
“We think that maybe by this time next year, there would be a vaccine, and it would be safe to go back.”
Robert Saunders, digital communications and fundraising coordinator at the Immigrant Council of Ireland, says there are no explicit protections in the law to stop the deportation of undocumented migrants to Covid-19 hotspots.
The Geneva Convention could prevent the extradition of refugees to areas where their lives would be in serious danger. But the law usually refers to asylum seekers, not illegal immigrants and the kinds of hazardous locations it envisions are war zones and high-conflict areas.
Covid-19 hotspots are not being defined as dangerous areas, in the same way, Saunders says, making it difficult for their immigration solicitors to comment.
Practical and Safe
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice says that each case is considered on its individual merits.
“It is important to emphasise that persons subject to a deportation order are legally obliged to leave the State,” they say.
If they resist what’s known as an invitation to leave, An Garda Síochána will be notified to remove them, when it is “practical and safe to do so”.
This past May, the United Nations Network on Migration released a statement saying that they were concerned about reports of forced returns of migrants to areas badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
They called on world governments to suspend deportations for the duration of the crisis, for humanitarian reasons. “Successfully tackling the pandemic cannot be achieved without upholding human rights,” they said.
The Department of Justice says its deportation policy remains unchanged during the Covid-19 crisis, but the process is kept under review “to ensure the health and safety of all concerned”.
According to the department’s official figures, the number of deportation orders is on the rise.
In 2017, the government issued 281 deportation orders against people who had entered the state illegally, or entered it legally but their permission lapsed, according to a spokesperson for the Department of Justice.
In 2018, that rose to 809 deportation orders, and in 2019, to 1,245. That’s an increase of 343 percent from 2017 to 2019. (These figures do not include people whose asylum applications were rejected.)
De Paula says he is banking on politicians to push for the prevention of deportation to areas that are badly impacted by the novel contagion.
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett says deportations are inherently cruel, calling on the Department of Justice to suspend forced removals for the duration of the Covid-19 crisis.
Boyd Barrett says that when the government is advising against travelling internationally because of Covid, deporting people to countries hit hard by the virus sounds unreasonable and unjust.
“Makes absolutely no sense, and it’s totally unfair. It’s inhumane and a major breach of the public-health guidelines,” he says.
Meanwhile, de Paula and his family say they are hopeful that the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee will allow Cauã to continue his studies in his adopted country.
“Cauã is feeling better,” de Paula says. “There was crying, and there is also hope.”