Bartender Wins First Round in Fight Against Deportation

by TChris

After serving eight years in a Belfast prison, Sean O'Cealleagh came to the United States to make a new life. He got a green card so he could work, then took a job as a bartender at O'Malley's in Seal Beach, where he became popular for his ability to croon Celtic tunes. O'Cealleagh and his wife had a baby. He traveled freely between the United States and Ireland, never experiencing a problem returning to Seal Beach. Life was good.

But in February, returning to Los Angeles International Airport after a trip to Northern Ireland, he was detained by immigration officials who boarded the plane and separated him from his 3-year-old American-born son. They said he should have never been allowed into the United States because of his conviction.

After a four day trial, an immigration judge ruled that O'Cealleagh had been convicted in a tainted trial and had been held by the British as a political prisoner. Although immigration authorities contended that O'Cealleagh had participated in the Casement Park killings, where two corporals were beaten by a Belfast mob before being shot to death by members of the Irish Republican Army, a videotape of the incident failed to satisfy the immigration judge that O'Cealleagh was even in Casement Park when the beating occurred.

O'Cealleagh says he walked past the crowd but never followed it into the park. He denies affiliation with the IRA. O'Cealleagh is one of three men who argue that they were wrongly convicted in a politically charged atmosphere. One of the three, Paddy Kane, has been exonerated by an appellate court in Northern Ireland.

The immigration judge ruled that O'Cealleagh's status as a political prisoner prevents the government from deporting him. Unfortunately, O'Cealleagh's desire to resume his life with his wife and child in Seal Beach may not be satisfied soon, as the United States continues to hold him in custody while it decides whether to appeal the immigration judge's decision.

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