I look at this picture, and all I can think is, “My how we’ve grown!” Ari seems twice as tall and I feel twice as confident and self-assured. In so many ways, we are stronger, smarter, and safer! We arrived in Ireland in July of 2020, not even sure we would be allowed to enter, let alone permitted to stay. Here we are, two and a half years later, not sure what we would do if we were told to leave, which is very much a possibility now.
When I began my Newsletter in April, it was meant to simply be a memoir, centered around my life as a chef and restaurateur. I thought that perhaps, by sharing what it was, that made Tastebuds so special and so unique, I could contribute once again, to the health and happiness of others, which had brought me tremendous joy and made my life in the US so extraordinary.
It was my intention to share stories about my new life as well, my life here in Ireland, for any of you who have ever wondered what it would be like, to up and move to a new country. Understandably, the back-to-back mass shootings in May of 2022 forced me to change gears momentarily, and write about my decision to apply for International Protection (asylum), in a piece I called, ‘We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Newsletter.’
For a time, I enjoyed writing once again from my heart rather than my gut, but then in late June, the US Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v Wade. When I was finally able to unclench my fists of rage, my pen had turned into a sword and my anger into a newsletter titled, ‘America Doubles Down on Promise of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness; So Long as You Remain in the Womb.”
Lately, I feel a sense of urgency and duty, like my writing has to serve some higher purpose, and while I try again and again to return to storytelling, Lady Liberty is always there, like a grain of sand in the corner of my eye. She has laid down her tablet and her torch and is waving her arms at me saying, “Help us or take us with you!” And that is exactly what I intend to do America!
I will continue writing my memoir, sharing heartwarming stories and delicious recipes but I have decided, that it is no breach of contract with you, my dear readers, if I am compelled to write about current events that I cannot remain silent about and I hope that you agree! I will continue to share my stories about Ireland as well, as I imagine more and more Americans are considering moving here, seeing it less as an idyllic place to retire and more as a vital refuge.
I’ve spent the last two and a half years, explaining to new friends or immigration officers what I experienced, what I felt, and why I left, shining the spotlight mostly on the explosive gun epidemic in America. My asylum plea, which may have been based in the beginning on primal fear, an instinct of ‘fight or flight,’ is now deeply rooted in reality and fact.
While much of the world sees only the mass shootings that make the headlines, I have tracked them all, using the data as evidence to support my case, which was often overwhelming, leaving me devastated and depressed. There were mass shootings nearly every day in 2022, and 2023 has begun with more mass shootings than days. As of January 24th, there have been 39 mass shootings across the United States, killing more than 60 people and injuring many, many more, leaving me with no doubt, that the future I feared has arrived, guns blazing, literally.
To be granted asylum, however, you must prove that you have a ‘well-founded fear of being persecuted or killed for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion’, and you cannot seek the protection of your country.
I did not let this, or even the International Protection Office’s initial refusal, deter me. In a last-ditch effort, I made my final plea to the International Protection Appeals Tribunal, in a letter posted on November 29th, 2022, containing the following statement:
“I believe wholeheartedly, that I have proven that I have a well-founded fear of harm or death if my son and I were to return to the US. It is for all of these reasons, race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, and none of these reasons; It is random, depending on the shooter's motives. Large groups of people, including young children are being gunned down, at alarming rates and frequency, with and without prejudice or bias in every part of the country. Police can’t stop them and the United States government is doing nothing to prevent it from happening in the first place.
In the lead-up to The International Protection Act of 2015, America’s phenomenon of mass shootings was really just beginning to take flight, averaging about 300 per year, between 2014 and 2015. No one could have predicted that in just five years, the average would have more than doubled. Also, worth noting, an Assault Weapons Ban was proposed in 2015, at a time when it would have seemed highly unlikely, that American lawmakers would put the profits of gun manufacturers before its citizens and the lives of school-aged children, our most vulnerable and most deserving of protection.”
I was trying to make the case, that at the time all of the criteria required for granting asylum were reviewed, revised, and put forth in The International Protection Act of 2015, random gun violence was not considered a huge problem. In the end, the law prevailed, as it always does in these kinds of cases, and we were denied asylum. But all is not lost. Our case is extremely significant in its novelty, in how seriously our claims were taken, and in how carefully they were considered. Maybe not by many, but by some. Think about what that says about America!
This is an excerpt from the final decision in our case:
“The Tribunal is satisfied that the serious harm feared by the appellant for herself and her son arising from random gun violence, that is death or serious injury to her son and/or herself, amounts to ‘serious harm’ within the meaning of Article 15 (a) and/or (b). As was the case in the Tribunal’s assessment of whether the appellant and her son satisfied the definition of a refugee earlier, the key issue here is the objective element of the test, i.e. whether there are substantial grounds for believing that the appellant and/or her son would face a real risk of suffering such serious harm if returned to the USA.
As discussed in considerable detail, the Tribunal is satisfied that violent crime, and in particular gun violence is a critical issue in the USA at present. However, the Tribunal finds that, in the context of the individual circumstances of the Appellant and her son and in light of the COI as discussed in considerable detail above, there are no substantial grounds for believing that if the Appellant and/or her son would be returned to the USA, the Appellant and/or her son would face a real risk of suffering serious harm in the form of the death penalty or execution, or torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
To qualify, on the grounds of an individual threat to a civilian’s life or a person of indiscriminate violence, one has to prove that there is an internal armed conflict.”
Time Line of Events…
To briefly try and give you a better sense of this entire process, I’ve included some commentary along with several journal entries and provided some links, but truly, I could write a book!
July 20th, 2020 After a tear-filled goodbye with my sister and best friend Erin and her family, Ari and I boarded a flight from Cleveland Hopkins airport, despite the official travel advice from Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs, which said, “Avoid all non-essential travel, until further notice.”
July 21st, 2020 Landed at Dublin Airport and was Interrogated at Customs and Border Control for over 30 minutes, by an officer who seemed determined to send us back to the US, understandably. There were many reports of American tourists traveling to Ireland and flouting quarantine requirements and public pressure was mounting to enforce a travel ban, as many blamed Americans for an increase in Covid cases.
I had anticipated this and was armed with one binder full of documents I knew would be necessary (Covid Passenger Locator Form, Proof of Sole Custody of Ari, Housing Confirmation and Agreements, and Proof of International Health Insurance), and another with backup documents (An Editors Journalist Agreement that I made up to say I was there ‘on assignment,’ making our trip essential, Ari’s Acceptance Letter to School, a Bank Statement, Proof of Airline Ticket back home dated September 30th so as to not raise any suspicions that we had planned to stay!) Sure enough, I needed every document I had, and even after presenting them all, I still had to resort to begging and crying and professing again and again, through a face mask that I’d been wearing for 15 or so hours, that I take Covid and my 14-day quarantine very seriously and had even hired a private driver to take us to Cork and to do our food shopping for us, so we could avoid the public as much as possible. Luckily, I had printed out those emails confirming this arrangement and the exorbitant price I was paying, because I think that is how I finally swayed her!
August 11th, 2020 Shortly after our 14-day quarantine ended, we walked down to the local Garde Station to register and to ask for Permission to Remain, which according to Ireland’s government website, was what we needed to do. We were told to make an appointment.
September 3rd, 2020 Appointment with Local Immigration Officer, held outside due to Covid! “I’ve no idea what yer goin on about, but I tink we stopped doin whatever it is, dat yer sayin!” he said…I tink! Thus, prompting me to do more intensive research. I was so sure that I was following protocol, only to learn that indeed, Ireland stopped accepting applications for permission to remain in January 2020, but had not yet updated its policy on the government website. The new policy was that you could only ask for Permission to Remain if you had been denied International Protection. I saw no other way to stay. My back to the wall, I decided to do just that.
October 14th, 2020 Boarded a train, from Cork to Dublin with Ari, breaking the travel ban that was in place in Ireland, assured by the officer I spoke to at The International Protection Office, that there was no other way to apply but in person.
October 15th, 2020 I made my way up the steps of the International Protection Office with Ari in tow, rang the buzzer, and asked for asylum. We were sent to a side entrance where we were met by a security guard who had us empty our pockets and go through a metal detector. He took my cell phone and gave me a ticket to collect it on the way out and then he searched our bags and pointed us to the reception area. Embarrassed, apologetic even, I approached the desk and made the declaration that was still somewhat reluctant to leave my mouth.
She kindly asked us for all our forms of identification and I gave her our passports and my driver’s license, not knowing we would never see them again. I was then fingerprinted and given a hefty stack of paperwork to fill out before being called for my first initial interview. I was told how lucky I was because usually, the place is full, but because of the Covid travel restrictions, there were only three of us applying. When the interview was finished and my plea accepted, I was photographed and given a temporary ID card and a massive packet explaining the entire process, and a more in-depth questionnaire to complete at home and return by post.
I wrote about the experience once we were back at our Dublin hotel.
October 15, 2020
Wow! We did it! I feel strangely liberated having surrendered our US passports. No one in the International Protection Office hid their intrigue and general surprise that an American would seek asylum in Ireland.
There was a point during my initial interview when Ari started to whine, “When are we going back to the hotel? I wanna go swimming!” At the same time, I was overhearing the interviews taking place in the other two cubicles. Right next to us, an African woman was saying that she refused to marry her cousin, who had raped her repeatedly, and her family was planning to kill her. Further down an African man was saying that as a boy, he refused to fight, but that they put a gun in his hand and forced him to do terrible things.
It was at that point that I was compelled to stop my interview. I told the officer, “asylum is too strong a word for what I am seeking and I do not wish to take someone’s place who is coming from Africa or Syria or Afghanistan. I just want permission to remain and this is the only path that leads to it, but I definitely do equate going back to America as going back to a life where I fear death.” I added that I am doing this for my son, first and foremost.
The interviewer stopped me and said compassionately, “There are nearly 8 billion people in the world. You can’t think about all of them and where you rank. You need to only do what is best for you and your son. You’ve got to put that above all else. And you’re doing the right thing. You’ve come to us, you’ve presented yourself properly and you will have lots of opportunities to say exactly what you just said to me. You do not need to fear breaking any laws now, and you will be a legal resident during this entire process, which takes a while.”
He added, with a skeptical glance toward the other cubicles, “Plus, you are telling the truth, which is not always the case!” Then he smiled warmly, sympathetically, leading me to wonder if the stories that had just ripped my heart out were true or not.
November 3rd, 2020 Mailed in my completed application, questionnaire, and asylum statement, which you can find in my May 28th, 2022 Newsletter.
December 17th, 2021 More than a year after applying, received our formal and more in-depth interview. Conducted and monitored in the Cork office with the interviewer in Dublin via audio-video link. Absolute disaster, as described also in my May 28th, 2022 Newsletter.
April 15th, 2022 Received Decision. Denied International Protection, denied Subsidiary Protection and denied Permission to Remain and was told that Removal Proceedings would begin unless I exercise my right to an Appeal.
May 3rd, 2022 Posted my Request for an Appeal to the Tribunal.
September 2nd, 2022 Received a notice that my wish to appeal was granted and that an appointment had been scheduled for an oral hearing.
September 13th, 2022 Appeal Hearing, via an audio-video link, conducted by a member of the International Protection Appeals Tribunal and tried by a representative of the Minister of Justice, with me in my living room, my laptop mounted atop a stack of board games on my desk!
September 13, 2022
It is done. I’ve come to the end of my road to asylum, which can be summed up pretty easily by the one and only question, asked by the spokeswoman for the minister (who looked, acted, and sounded exactly like Tyne Daly, (but with a British accent) so we’ll call her Lacey!)
“I mean… (scoffing and shaking her head) do you even know what the asylum process is? (raising her eyebrows and lowering her reading glasses that hung from a string of pale-colored glass beads) And what it means to be persecuted? I mean…ha…you’re from America!” (gasping, throwing back her head slightly, and raising her shoulders, then her outstretched hands, signifying, she was at a loss.)
BTW, Lacey was late, and didn’t have her camera positioned to where we could see her face until the IPO officer asked her to please move it…several times! Also, she got up and walked away during my testimony, without telling us that she was leaving. Then returned saying, “I could still hear you! (rather nastily) I was just going to put on a cardigan.” Clearly, she was miffed that I stopped the meeting when she left.
She was allotted one hour for interviewing me but said she had no further questions for me, coldly dismissing me like I was a waste of time. This stung me and I got very emotional and accused her of making a judgment against me, without even hearing what I had to say, based on her own personal opinions of America and Americans.
The Irish IPO officer (we’ll call her Glinda!) who took my case and allowed the appeal was brilliant. She asked Lacey if she could interject and she quickly calmed me down. She explained Lacey’s role, which was to see if anything I said fit within the perimeter of the law.
I can confidently report that I did the best of my ability. I presented the facts of my case with raw emotion. It was good that I did not rehearse, that I just spoke from my heart as clearly and honestly as I could.
It was such a relief to be interviewed by women, especially women with children, for obvious reasons. Lacey, who eventually softened towards me, said “I have two children and I feel for you, I really do, and while I believe that everything you’ve said is true, I am bound by the law.”
I apologized for losing my temper and I thanked the women profusely. They both said ‘God Bless You,’ at the end of our call.
SIDE NOTE: Before giving testimony, I was asked to swear an oath, like a witness at a trial, which I found exciting because I have never been! Glinda asked if I had a copy of The New Testament, after confirming that I am a Catholic. I laughed eyeing my bookshelf and offered up the only version I had, which was a Children’s Picture Bible! Talk about setting the tone, this was adorable and I could tell it won Glinda’s heart! It wasn’t planned. It wasn’t a trick. It’s who I am! I am so proud today. I worked really hard preparing for this case. Glinda did a lot to assure me that if there is a way to grant us asylum, she will find it. And if she can’t, there are other avenues to keep me here legally.
It is amazing that I have gotten this far, considering that a positive outcome could very well jeopardize the integrity of the system and I am not taking that responsibility lightly. I know it’s far-fetched to say it now, but my case may help the next one get even further.
No one wants to believe that the United States of America could collapse, but I see its foundation eroding rapidly. It’s like I’m under the bleachers watching the rusty supports rattle and shake, while everyone in the stands just keeps jumping up and down, too absorbed in the ballgame to notice, cheering for their team, booing the other. Clearly, there will be no winners if this keeps up.
November 23rd 2022 Received a positive sounding letter from the Tribunal in the post. In assessing my appeal they cited two additional reports:
Report by the Center For Disease Control (CDC), Vital Signs: Changes in Firearm, Homicide and Suicide Rates in the United States, 2019-2020
Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence (EFSGV), Gun Violence in the United States
The Tribunal found that mass shootings and school shootings are occurring with “depressing regularity,” and went on to say the following:
It is well documented that gun violence in the USA is a serious issue, so much so that it merits detailed reference in recent reports by Amnesty International, with Amnesty concluding in its 2021 Report that the US Government’s “ongoing failure to protect people from persistent gun violence continues to violate their human rights, including the rights to life, security of person and freedom from discrimination, among others.” That report continued:
“A surge in gun sales during the Covid-19 pandemic, unfettered access to firearms, a lack of comprehensive gun safety laws (including effective regulation of firearm acquisition, possession and use), and a failure to invest in adequate gun violence prevention and intervention programs, perpetuated this violence.
At least 44,000 people were estimated to have been killed by gun violence in 2020. During the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021 some state government authorities exacerbated gun violence by designating gun stores as “essential Business.”
November 29th 2022 Emailed Tribunal confirming receipt of their letter, and one final statement (which you read earlier in this piece) with two more corresponding articles to support my claims.
January 5th 2023 Received our Final Decision by registered mail. DENIED. (“Sure Ari, I know it’s a school night and the movie is over three hours long, but we can go see Avatar, you’re used to seeing mommy cry at the cinema!”)
January 8th 2023
Ok, I’m over my shock, disappointment and anxiety. The decision, the FINAL decision, NOT to grant us International Protection has shown me a way to finally move forward. I’m glad I only allowed myself one day to wallow in my grief.
I tried cheering myself up, by temporarily imagining what it would be like to move back to the States, how easy it would be to rely on my popularity and reputation to get a restaurant going again. I daydreamed about endless warm and dry weather conditions, breathtaking sun sets out over Lake Erie and long bike rides on smooth pathways free of dog poop! I pictured myself there, eating delicious ethnic food, every kind imaginable, as well as Ohio City Pasta, Cleveland Bagels and Farkas Pastries. I thought about shopping for ingredients at the West Side Market, Gallucis, Aladdin’s Bakery, and GFS Marketplace and finally getting a chance to check out Andrew Revy’s place, Immigrant Son Brewery! Oh! …And FAMILY of course! That should have been my first thought! I’m an ASSHOLE!!!
Of course, this only made things worse, and I was in and out of tears until later that day when the news broke that a fucking six-year-old (SIX!!!), came to school with a loaded handgun and INTENTIONALLY shot his teacher! Turns out, he was NOT the first six-year-old to fire a gun in school, and not the youngest either. So, feeling completely deflated, I sat down at my computer and googled, ‘Where can a US citizen live outside of the country that’s safe?’
Ten options came up, many of them cheaper and warmer than Ireland. But then, I pictured the faces of everyone we have met here and thought about the kindness, generosity and love they have shown us. Even total strangers in Ireland treat each other beautifully! I thought about the life we have built and the home we have made, and GODDAMMIT, I will continue to fight to keep it! I must, especially for Ari. He needs to feel safe, secure and settled but I also want him to feel loved and well cared for by his community. Am I being greedy?
January 17th, 2023 Posted our Application for Permission to Remain.
Having been denied asylum, we were at last given the opportunity to apply for Permission to Remain, which was all I wanted when we arrived, before the storming of the nation’s Capitol Building, before parents in Michigan bought their deeply disturbed 15-year-old a semi-automatic handgun and left it unlocked and easily accessible. Before Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas and the many other cities whose names are forever tied to senseless massacres. Before 2021 ended with 690 mass shootings and 2022 ended with 647. Our future is now, squarely in the hands of Ireland’s Minister of Justice, and so we wait and we pray.
Just days after mailing in our application for Permission to Remain, Ari and I walked to our local movie theater to see Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Written by Anthony McCarten. Directed by Kasi Lemmons. Distributed by Sony Pictures. 2022). From the moment the actress playing Houston, Naomi Ackie, appeared on the screen, wearing that iconic white tracksuit from her legendary performance in 1991, singing The Star-Spangled Banner at Super Bowl XXV, I began to cry.
Hearing the National Anthem, seeing those red, white and blue flags waving, the crowd cheering and the F-16s flying overhead, flooded me with nostalgia for who we were back then, as Americans, as McGinty’s as Christians, as fucking Human Beings and I just fucking lost it. My thoughts and memories conjured up a tidal wave of emotions that sent me tumbling and thrashing about for days.
I remember that moment in time so vividly; that period in history, when it really seamed like global peace was possible, when the United States were indeed united and I believed that America’s Desert Storm was helping to liberate the world and bring its oppressors to justice. We had just witnessed the release of Nelson Mandela, the end of the Cold War and the break up of the Soviet Union. The Berlin Wall was reduced to rubble and President Reagan’s daring directive was still echoing in our ears, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
It felt as if the champagne was freely flowing and victory cigars were being passed out everywhere you went. Anyone could get a credit card and everyone could get a mortgage and restaurants, really good restaurants were popping up everywhere! That was a time in my life when my family was still loving and whole and strong in their faith. A time when kindness just came naturally to most people.
I was 19 years old then and looking back, that may very well have been, the greatest time to be alive in the history of the world and I was well-positioned to make the most of it! Which ironically, is probably exactly what my ancestors had hoped for when they left Ireland more than a hundred years ago!
But, before I could turn 20, which was only two months later, I would come to find that this was hardly an all-inclusive party. The beating of Rodney King and the subsequent LA Riots shattered all illusions that America was indeed ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave,’ and here we are 32 years later, and what has changed?
Of course, one only remembers the good stuff and before long I was thinking of my fondest childhood memories, from Fourth of July fireworks and annual trips to Cedar Point and Put in Bay with all of our cousins, to ice skating or sled riding in the valley, before warming up with a hot (Pre-lawsuit hot!) chocolate at McDonald’s, leaving the roof of our mouths blistered! I reminisced about fishing and camping trips, snow skis and jet skis, and outdoor music festivals.
I began to wonder, “Am I depriving Ari of his birth-right, denying him the quintessential All-American life doing all of those things that I enjoyed doing as a child? Would he be better off playing football, basketball and baseball rather than hurling or rugby? Will his childhood be complete without lemonade stands, Pepsi Half Time Shows, dollar dog nights, bobblehead give aways or a trip to Disney World? Is he really better off, if it means missing out on cousin’s birthdays and First Communions or family reunion picnics with Papa Tom’s famous baked beans and Gramma Mary’s award winning cupcakes?”
I sure the fuck hope so.
Darius Rucker’s song, Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It, popped into my head and I moped around the rest of the day, in and out of tears, remembering these lyrics:
I left out in a cloud of taillights and dust
Swore I wasn't coming back, said I'd had enough
Saw you in the rear view standing, fading from my life
But I wasn't turnin' 'round
No not this time
But don't think I don't think about it
Don't think I don't have regrets
Don't think it don't get to me
Between the work and the hurt and the whiskey
Don't think I don't wonder 'bout
Could've been, should've been all worked out
I know what I felt, and I know what I said
But don't think I don't think about it
This process has been quite daunting, one does not surrender their US passport without a bit of anxiety, especially during a Global Pandemic. There have been a few dramatic moments, where I have questioned my sanity in doing so. As hospitals struggled here during the many surges of Covid-19 cases, I thought about how I once lived within walking distance of the world renowned Cleveland Clinic. When Russian Nuclear Submarines and war ships were 40 miles off the coast of Cork, meaning 60 miles from me and Ari, and Irish fishermen were basically telling them to ‘fek off,’ I nearly bit off ever one of my fingernails! And then, of course when Russia invaded Ukraine, and released a simulation video, demonstrating how easily they could wipe out Ireland and the UK, I couldn’t sleep for days.
And I know, I know that the odds of Ari or me being gunned down are slim. I now have factual evidence, from the International Protection Appeals Tribunal, documents stating how unlikely they believe it is, but my gut tells me otherwise.
And after moping around all day Saturday, wondering if I am cheating Ari or depriving him from all the fun and family back in the States, I woke Sunday to the news of another mass shooting and ten more reasons to trust my gut. No, eleven, as I have just received news that another victim of the Monterey Park shooting has succumbed to their wounds. Wait…hold on. My friend Blanka just texted and it’s rather late. This can’t be good. ‘Two students are shot dead at school in Iowa: Cops say ‘multiple’ suspects are in custody.”
Blanka, like so many other friends I have made here in Midleton, pays more attention to the news coming out of America now, making sure I don’t miss anything that can support my claims and bolster my case. They were fascinated in the beginning and now they’re as angry and outraged as I am. “I mean why, why is this happening and how is the government not doing anything about it?” they ask again and again and again.
A Final Thought…
You know, I imagine it’s possible to get used to swimming in a vast pool with a shark, if you think the odds of him biting you are slim to none and there has been no sightings in your area. It’s another thing entirely, to have gotten out of the pool after feeling just the slightest brush of his pectoral fin against your skin, and to have spent years safely walking the deck, observing the carnage and his erratic behavior from a safe distance, only to be told you’ve gotta get back in that water. There’s just no way anyone could do that.
Even if they think about it from time to time.
Thank You for Being Here With Me My Friends!
Holy Smokes! That was a lot to take in. I hope you’re not reading my newsletters all in one go! The next one will be short and sweet, after all it will be my special Valentines Day Post, and you know what that means…Tastebuds Signature Greek Pasta Recipe! Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss out!
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Dear Bridget, I was so sad to read your story and even sorrier when I got to the end.
What can I do.? Shall I write to the minister? You and Ari are so happy here.
Dear woman< don’t give up. Keep fighting for what you believe is right and good for you and your son.
Sending love Dee- in Enniscorthy.
So kind of you to reach out! Thanks for the offer and the inspiration! I was able to send in a beautiful letter written by my parish priest from back in the States, I'll be in touch if they ask for more. I hope your house is coming along and you're enjoying Springtime in Enniscorthy, we look so forward to next year's Blues Festival! Thanks a million! x