GERALD arrived in New York in 1984, and spent his first weeks living with a great-uncle who settled in the Bronx 60 years earlier. Gerald found a job ``off the books'' as a bricklayer, and cashed his first paychecks at a local pub. Unlike many Irish illegals, he opened a savings account using a forged social security card. He pays taxes on the interest.
Forged documents, however, do not protect a vulnerable population against employers and landlords who try to exploit fears of being deported. For more than a year Gerald has tried to get his landlord to fix a yawning hole in the bedroom ceiling of his Bronx apartment.
In 1985, New York mayor Edward Koch issued a directive that requires city agencies - including police - to provide services to undocumented immigrants. The order also prohibits such agencies from turning them in to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Aliens with problems in housing, public accommodation, and other areas may obtain help from the city's Human Rights Commission. Like many illegal aliens, Gerald was unaware of this.
Two weeks ago, he was laid off. He now must face a new round of job hunting, and the inevitable queries regarding his status. He knows a company that needs workers. But he also knows he'll be asked for a green card.
As his frustrations mount, his savings dwindle. Yet he insists that he made the right decision to come here: ``It seems strange, after all the years of legal immigration, that now the Irish are illegal,'' he said. ``America has always held out great hope for us. It still does. And even though I'm illegal, I'm willing to sit it out. America is a place where the Irish can walk around with our heads up, if we ever get the chance.''