NewsCrime Desk

Irish man facing deportation from US wanted over $1,300 'cheque theft'

John Cunningham appeared on RTE Prime Time. Picture: Screen Grab RTE Prime Time
John Cunningham appeared on RTE Prime Time. Picture: Screen Grab RTE Prime Time

A well-known Irish man detained for living illegally in Boston was wanted by US police for an alleged larceny offence.

Independent.ie has learned that there is an outstanding warrant for John Cunningham (38) in Massachusetts after he allegedly took a cheque for $1,300 (€1,170) from a man to carry out electrical work at a home in March 2014.

The victim Christopher Waltham claimed that he never saw or heard from the Donegal native again and he filed a police report in May of that year.

A spokesperson for West Roxbury District Court confirmed that Mr Cunningham was ordered to appear in court on October 16, 2014 but he failed to show.

The spokesperson confirmed that a warrant was issued for his arrest at that time and this remains outstanding.

Mr Cunningham emigrated from Glencolmcille, Co Donegal to Boston, Massachusetts in February 2000 and had previously appeared in a RTÉ Prime Time documentary focused on undocumented Irishmen and women living in the United States.He is now awaiting deportation amidst a crackdown on immigration enforcement under the new Trump administration.

A spokesman for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency confirmed that Mr Cunningham was arrested by ICE officers on June 15 for "immigration violations".

"Cunningham entered the country lawfully under the Visa Waiver Program, but failed to depart in compliance with the terms of his visit. 

"Cunningham is currently in ICE custody pending removal from the United States. Visa Waiver Program participants waive their rights to a hearing before an immigration judge and are subject to mandatory detention.”

Shawn Neudauer, Public Affairs Officer for the agency said his arrest had nothing to do with the current Trump Administration.

"John overstayed his visa by 15 years. Oddly, enough a lot of people are trying to tie this with the current presidential administration. 

"This has always been a priority. People were arrested and removed under the prior administration going back many years."

The ICE representative added that if a visitor to the US stayed in excess of 90 days without the required documents then they will be subject to arrest and immediate deportation. 

"There is no hearing before an immigration court, there's no judicial involvement whatsoever.

"If I was to come to Ireland and stay 100 days Irish authorities can arrest me and keep me to jail before I get sent back. 

"John will be held in custody until he will be sent back to Ireland. This will be relatively quick. He won't be kept in jail for very long and has no right to appeal," he said. 

A source from a Boston GAA club told Independent.ie, Mr Cunningham is currently being detained at the Suffolk County House of Corrections and is waiting to be sent back to Ireland.

"They came to his door the other day and took him… but he’s getting a lot of good help," he said.

"He’s getting help from members from the GAA here, help from consular officials here, from Ireland and from Washington.

"It’s a shame. He’s a high profile figure in the GAA community here. He’d be very well respected."

The Glencolmcille native was previously chairman of Boston Northeast GAA, and is also a member of the Board of Ambassadors for volunteer organisation Irish Network Boston.

Mr Cunningham is currently being detained at the Suffolk County House of Corrections and is waiting to be sent back to Ireland.

United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has reported a 38pc increase of individuals arrested who are known or suspected to be living in the country illegally.

A total of 41,318 people were arrested on civil immigration charges in a 100 day period between January and April 2017, a 37.6pc increase compared to same period in 2016.

The Boston Globe has noted that the crackdown is particularly evident in Boston, with the amount of federal arrests in relation to immigration doubling in the first two months of Donald Trump’s presidency when compared to the same time period last year.

Speaking about the recent surge in these arrests, ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan said: "Agents and officers have been given clear direction to focus on threats to public safety and national security, which has resulted in a substantial increase in the arrest of convicted criminal aliens.

"However, when we encounter others who are in the country unlawfully, we will execute our sworn duty and enforce the law.

"As the data demonstrates, ICE continues to execute our mission professionally and in accordance with the law, and our communities will be much safer for it."

Cathal McMahon and Ian Begley