This was first published in July 2010.


Moville man Gerry McLaughlin set out for his daughter Margot’s wedding on Tuesday morning at 9am.

She was getting married in Philadelphia on Saturday.

Gerry had only seen Margot for the first time about 5 years ago when she came over to see him after her mother had traced Gerry some months previously and sent a letter.

They are resident in Sacramento, California but are getting married in Philadelphia because that is where her fiance Chad’s family all live.

With the Children

Gerry left with his two children in Ireland Rhea and Robbie.

As they are going to stay longer they set off for Boston whereas Gerry went straight to Philadelphia.

Said Gerry “The kids would be coming from Boston on the Thursday and would stay a week with me in Philadelphia before flying back to stay a further two weeks with their Grandparents in Rhode Island.

“We had stayed in America previously in Rhode Island before we came to Ireland”.

No Problems Expected

So, when he got across the Atlantic and went through immigration Gerry thought that there would be no problems.

How wrong he was.

They asked him if he had ever been in America before.

Previously he had used a British passport but this time he was travelling with an Irish passport.

It didn’t show that he had been in America before but he decided that the truth was best and said that he had been.

Are You Sure?

The guy at the desk asked “Are you sure you’ve been in America before? It doesn’t say anything on your passport?”

Gerry replied that he was sure.

That was enough for the guy at the desk.

“Come with me” he said and Gerry was led into the area filled with Homeland Security people.


He explained about the British passport.

They were very aggressive in their questioning.

He was taken into a room with three of the Homeland security people and asked if had been in America in 2004.

Lived There

Gerry had been in America before, visiting his family while living and working in the UK on contract.

However, the last time he was there in 2002 he decided that he would try and stay there and set in motion the process of getting a green card.

However, the lawyer was very slow and dragged his feet.

Then 9/11 happened and it slowed things down further.

Left the Country

By 2002 the family’s money was running out as the Green card hadn’t come yet, so they decided to come to Ireland in November 2002.

The Home Security people said that Gerry’s Green card had come through in early 2003 and he had been given permission to stay and work.

This was the first that Gerry knew about it.

He had been legal to live and work there and didn’t know it.

Go Now

He thought that this was good. It was all cleared up and he could now go to his daughter’s wedding.

The matter was all cleared up.

However, it wasn’t.

It seems that a letter was sent to him by the courts in 2004 asking him to appear as an illegal alien.

He didn’t get the letter as he had left the US 2 years before.


As he didn’t turn up at court he was convicted of being an illegal alien.

Two years later he was summoned to appear at the court to answer a deportation charge.

He didn’t appear, as he had left the country 4 years previously and never saw the summons.

A deportation order was issued by the court.

Going Blindly On

Of course, Gerry knew nothing of all this as he approached the immigration desk at Philadelphia airport.

However, now that was all explained (and they accepted the truth of it as they had checked with various agencies) everything would be alright, thought Gerry.

However, bad news was to come.

The immigration officer told Gerry that there had been an erroneous decision made by the courts and she thought that he could get it rescinded.

“However”, she said “We can’t overrule a decision by a US judge. You would have to go through the legal processes to get that decision annulled as erroneous as it certainly is. That means that we can’t let you in here and we will have to deport you to the country from whence you came”.

Missed Wedding

Gerry would miss his daughter’s wedding.

There was worse to come.

As the last plane to Heathrow had already gone they would have to detain Gerry overnight, they said.

Would he just sleep on the chairs in the airport or the floor he wondered or would they have a bed for him?


They had a bed alright for him – in Philadelphia’s main prison.

At 2:30 in the morning US time and 7:30am Irish time he and an India guy were taken to prison.

The Indian guy was trying to get into America with the wrong visa. He was a software developer and was there to work but didn’t have a Work Permit.

It was getting worse.

They were taken into a little room where they were body searched.

The Indian guy was sobbing away when he came out after the close body search.

Gerry was taken in for his turn.

Even Worse

Worse was to follow.

They were both put in chains and then the handcuffs put on.

Worse was to follow still.

They were then led handcuffed and in chains through the airport and into the streets outside to where the prison van was and put inside.

Said Gerry “It has to be said that the two guys taking us were very nice and we joked around with them”.


After 45 minutes of being taken through the streets of Philadelphia and beyond they arrived at the prison.

They were taken inside and body searched again with their hands against the wall like you see on TV.

They were left with the prison officer who fingerprinted them (the 3rd time Gerry had had his prints taken that day), who then took their pictures and put their details on the computer.

They were then shown to Cell 5.


It was very basic.

There wasn’t a proper bed and only a hard slab.

Gerry let the Indian have it and slept on the floor.

They were given a thin plastic mattress each – which weren’t in very good condition.

However, they had a blanket and two sheets.

There were no pillows.


It was difficult to sleep as there was a lot of clinking and clanking in the night.

They might have got an hour to an hour and a half each.

They indulged in black humour about the situation and tried to estimate what time it was constantly as they knew the police would come and get them after 9am some time.

After what seemed an eternity they came for them, and, after a hands-against-the wall body search, the chains and handcuffs were put back on and they were marched back to prison.

Long Day

It was a long, long day as the plane they eventually got didn’t come till 9:30 that night and they had to sit on the same chair all day and weren’t even allowed to wander round much.

Their ordeal wasn’t over.

When it was time to get the plane they were taken through the airport by three black clad officers with guns and batons and probably tasers.

They were taken to the desk ahead of all the other passengers who were sitting there watching and wondering.

Led On

They were led onto the plane by the officers who handed them over to the staff.

Said Gerry “I was hoping that when they came round asking “What would you like to drink” they wouldn’t say “sorry, we can’t give you any” but it was OK and I sipped my first beer since I left Moville”.

“They gave us back our passports at the end of the journey and then we were free and normal citizens again – although it took me a further 10 hours to get back to Moville”.

Worst thing

“The worst thing was that even while they were deporting me and sending me to prison they knew it was all a mistake. They told me so themselves. However, they said there was nothing they could do about it.”

“I suppose I might laugh about it in a few years and treat it as an experience. However, as everyone knows, there are three big events in everyone’s life, being born, getting married and dying. I missed my daughter’s birth and now I’ve missed her marriage”.

It seems that Gerry will never be able to get into America via a Visa waiver again.

He must apply for a proper Visa next time and even if the American Embassy gives him one, they don’t make the decisions.

Immigration and Homeland Security make those decisions when you arrive.


Gerry would stand the risk of the same thing happening to him again.

It could have been even worse. According to the main immigration officer they had contacted the ‘agents’, presumably FBI, and he could have been held in prison and tried for defying a deportation order – which is a 5/10 year sentence. You are not supposed to try to re-enter the country after a deportation order.

So, Gerry would be taking a chance going back again even with a visa.


The Homeland Security said that they and Customs and the Immigration people were baffled by it and didn’t know how it could have happened. They said it was a unique case.

They didn’t know how a deportation order could be served on someone who had been given a green card and who had left the country 4 years before.

However, they said that the only way to reverse a court order would be to fight it through the courts again.

They told Gerry that he would almost certainly win as the decision was erroneous.

However, it is a bit much when an innocent man can go through what Gerry went through for no fault of his own.

It’s crazy!

Money Drain

And now he has to spend lots of his money on a lawyer and on a process that might take years if he wants to go and see his daughter again.

Said Gerry “as we left we saw the next batch of people who would be going through what we went through. One Greek guy asked me “What will they do with me now. He was stunned as I told him what was in store for him. He would be in a cell by himself when they locked the doors – and he was a 40-a-day smoker to boot, He said “I’ve never even had a parking ticket in my life” “.

“I wonder what would have happened if I had just said that I had never been in America before. Telling the truth is the first instinct but if I hadn’t would I have been in Philadelphia now for my daughter’s wedding? I’ll never know.

“I suppose it gives me more time to prepare for the BeatlesFest which takes in Moville from August 12 to 15th.”