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July 20, 2008

Pol Brennan's Plight

Brennan's Plight Rooted In '96 As Much As 9/11

By Jim Dee

June 25, 2008 Sitting 20 miles inland from the Gulf of
Mexico, tiny Turcotte, Texas has seen its share of
hurricanes. However, an unlucky Irishman passing through
the area five months ago encountered a different maelstrom:
new U.S. immigration and Homeland Security realities that
have him jailed at time when his native Northern Ireland is
at peace, and Washington hails some of his former IRA
comrades as statesman.

Maze escapee Pol Brennan has been cooling his heels in a
Texas immigration jail since being detained at a U.S.
immigration checkpoint north of Turcotte on January 27 –
this for having a lapsed U.S. work permit.

The fact that Brennan had filed the renewal form on time,
and that U.S. authorities simply hadn't updated it at the
time he was stopped, was deemed irrelevant.

So too was Britain's 2000 decision to drop its efforts to
extradite Brennan back to Northern Ireland for being one of
38 IRA men who escaped the Maze prison in September 1983.

And Homeland Security prosecutors haven't been moved by the
fact that federal officials had earlier authorized Brennan
to live freely in the San Francisco Bay area for years
while awaiting the outcome of his political asylum

America is far different place today than when Brennan was
first arrested in 1993. The U.S. has been waging a "war on
terror" since 9/11, and a bourgeoning security apparatus
headed by the Department of Homeland Security looks more
harshly than before at anyone with even the remotest
connection to terrorism.

But "war on terror" realities aren't the chief reason that
Brennan now faces the toughest battle of his 15 year
struggle remain in the United States and with his American
citizen wife.

Far more pertinent is the fact that his current deportation
case is being framed by tough 1996 immigration reforms that
scorn most circumstantial considerations and discourage any
nuanced interpretations of individual cases by judges.

Like the 'three-strikes-and-your-out' criminal laws so
popular nationwide in the 1990s, the 1996 immigration
reforms mandate black-and-white remedies to deal with
undocumented immigrants whose circumstances are can often
complicated and mitigating factors.

On the surface, the case against Brennan seems pretty open-
and-shut. He has a 1995 felony gun conviction that appears
to disqualify him from staying in the U.S. under any
circumstance under the rules contained in the 1996

He bought the gun from a licensed dealer in the early
1990s. However, by using an alias when buying it, he
committed a felony.

Given the clichéd depictions of "hardened terrorists"
prevalent in pop culture today, it might be presumed that
the IRA fugitive was "packing" in preparation of shooting
his way out if the feds ever swooped. But Brennan's reality
was much more mundane.

For starters, when the FBI arrested him in January 1993, he
didn't even own the gun anymore. He'd sold it to finance
his new hobby: astronomy, which he'd taken up after his
wife bought him a telescopic viewer in the hopes of weaning
him off the target-shooting hobby that she feared would
cause problems.

"I obtained a pistol for the purpose of target shooting in
the early '90s," Brennan told the Irish Echo, during a
phone interview from the Port Isabel Detention Center in
Los Fresnos, Texas.

"After the initial fascination wore off, I resold the
pistol and bought my first telescope, as my interest in
astronomy grew and the opportunity to buy some real
observational equipment meant that I could put my spare
time to better use increasing my knowledge of the night
sky, instead of just punching holes in paper targets," said

But what possessed him to risk buying a gun in the first

Brennan told the Echo that, having grown up in Belfast's
Ballymurphy area - an IRA stronghold that saw daily gun
battles in the early 1970s - he'd grown up viewing guns
differently than someone reared in a place like Westchester
County, New York or Palm Springs, California.

"It's not unusual for people who grow up around guns to
retain an interest in them after their initial exposure,"
said Brennan.

"Coming from an unstable situation in my own country where
I was exposed to an underground gun culture that arose in
defense of neighborhoods that I grew up in, and being
mechanically-minded, I was drawn to the unique mechanical
systems of guns."
Brennan knows that he made a major mistake in buying the
pistol. But he stressed that he believed that he'd already
paid his debt to society for the offense.

"When I was fighting my extradition case back in the mid-
90s, this gun charge was dealt with by (U.S. District
Court) Judge Charles Legge, who found that I had only
obtained the said pistol for sporting purposes," said
Brennan. "He gave me six months, time-served, for the
offense. That's where I thought it ended. Apparently not."

The gun issue might have faded away had it not been for the
Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act
(IIRIRA) of 1996.

Passed by a Republican-controlled Congress and signed into
law by President Bill Clinton, the IIRIRA dramatically
increased spending on border enforcement. Outlays for
detention and deportation of illegal immigrants have risen
in the intervening years by 750 percent.
A central plank of the IIRIRA was its virtually elimination
of any hope of judicial relief from deportation for any
undocumented immigrant who commits a crime in the U.S.

"Since the 1996 immigration reforms, the big crackdown has
been on criminal aliens," said Kevin Johnson, a law
professor at the University of California at Davis who
specializes in how the "war on terror" has impacted civil
liberties and racial profiling.

Johnson said that post-9/11 deportations have risen

"Every year we're setting records for the number of people
deported. The last couple of years it's been around 200,000
a year," he said.

Professor Johnson said that America has a long history of

legislation to deal with a perceived threat from
immigrants, from the Chinese Exclusion Laws of 1882, to
Cold War provisions that allowed for the deportation of
communists and political dissidents.

"And, in some ways, the fear of terrorism, the fear of
criminal aliens, fits in nicely with the long history of
our response, some would say over-response, to the
perceived immigration threat of the day," he said.

Johnson said that the current focus of immigration
enforcement policies is "immigrants who are in the country
who have committed crimes. And the laws have become harsher
and harsher, tougher and tougher."

"If you've got one conviction, maybe you can avoid
deportation. If you've got two convictions, it's harder,"
he added. "And if you've got a firearms conviction, it's
going to be very, very tough to stay."

Northern Ireland now has an historic DUP-Sinn Fein power
sharing government. As one of its leaders, former IRA man
Martin McGuinness has been warmly welcomed in the White
House. Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly, who escaped the Maze
alongside Brennan, has also traveled freely to and from the
U.S. several times in recent years.

Both men have said that tumultuous events on the ground in
Northern Ireland three decades ago heavily influenced their
decisions to join the republican movement. And clearly
their life choices in leaving armed struggle behind in
favor of politics have impressed U.S. officials at the
highest levels.

Supporters of Pól Brennan - and one politician now arguing
in favor of bail is Congressman Peter King, no soft touch
when it comes to border security - contend that key events
in his life, including his 1977 conviction for ferrying
explosives through Belfast, his participation in the
grueling blanket, no-wash and hunger strike protests inside
the Maze, and his subsequent escape, were also shaped by
the troubles.

However, Brennan's war ended when he escaped the Maze
prison nearly a quarter of a century ago.

At 56, he has spent nearly half his time on earth, and the
overwhelming majority of his adult life, living in America.
He has been married to an American woman, Joanna Volz, for
19 years.

Brennan recently put himself through community college and
later passed a test to become a certified California
building inspector. He has also taken his passion for
astronomy to a higher level by becoming a volunteer at
Oakland's Chabot observatory, the staff of which sent a
glowing character reference letter to judge in his current
deportation case.

"I was living quite normally, and moving forward, before
all this happened in January," Brennan told the Echo.

"I feel that, in the circumstances that I'm in now, the gun
issue is being used in a more punitive way than in other
ways it would have been," he added. "I feel that people
have moved on over in Ireland. But, in this respect, I've
not been allowed to. It's like being in a time warp."

This story appeared in the issue of June 25-July 2, 2008

July 15, 2008

IAUC Sponsors Féile An Phobail


IAUC Sponsors Féile An Phobail

Contact: Kate McCabe, IAUC National President,
734.657.2436; Sean Paul O'Hare, Director, Féile an Phobail,
+44 28 9031 3440

July 15, 2008—The Irish American Unity Conference (IAUC) is
delighted to announce its sponsorship of West Belfast's
20th Anniversary Féile an Phobail, which will take place
this August 3rd through 10th, 2008, in West Belfast,

The community festival was first established in 1988 as a
direct response to the conflict in the north of Ireland,
and showcases the enormous amount of ingenuity, innovation,
energy and passion for positive community development
throughout West Belfast. The IAUC is the first
International Sponsor of Féile an Phobail.

Féile Director Sean Paul O'Hare commented on the
significance of the IAUC's support: "We welcome the IAUC as
official sponsors for our August Féile and we value their
involvement in this year's festival. This year has been
particularly difficult with massive cuts to our funding.
However we have come through many years of hardship and yet
we always managed to not only survive but also thrive. This
year is no exception."

2008 also marks the 10th anniversary of the Good Friday
Agreement and the 25th anniversary of the IAUC. According
the McCabe, though the IAUC will be celebrating the
achievements of the past throughout the year, the current
goals and campaigns of the organization reflect the need
for a new vision of international support for peace with
justice as defined by local communities.

Sponsorship of this year's festival is part of the IAUC's
Fair Investment campaign, which was kicked off at Forbairt
Feirste's Cultural Economy Conference in West Belfast in
May. "We wanted to showcase this community initiative, and
to recognize the important role the Féile has played in
promoting peace building and intergenerational
participation at the local level for the past twenty
years," said IAUC National President Kate McCabe.

"We are hoping that through our involvement with the
festival, and our recognition of local efforts in the north
of Ireland, we might strengthen the ties between Irish
Americans and Irish communities—particularly those who are
moving the peace process on the ground forward daily in
historically marginalized areas. It is in these areas
where the foundations for a secure and lasting peace will
be built." McCabe said.

O'Hare added, "We hope to expand our programme in the
coming years and we especially want to welcome more of our
friends from the U.S.A. The festival has been to the fore
in relation to developing positive relations during the
peace process. We create events where all the communities
of Ireland can come together and debate our differences and
then celebrate our cultures in a positive and productive
fashion. So with the support of the IAUC, we will have a
very successful festival. We would also love to welcome
even more U.S visitors to our great community arts party in



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