Kevin Cullen

Seeing red over her green card plight

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By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / September 26, 2010

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Auntie Zeituni, whose nephew lives in that big white house at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, didn’t do herself any favors the other day, going on Channel 4 to say that Americans owed her big-time.

Living in the Southie projects on the taxpayer dime, Auntie Zeituni is expected to show a little more appreciation, given how we’re letting her live in what is beyond a shadow of doubt the greatest country in the whole wide world.

All three of the men running for governor, even the immigrant-friendly incumbent Deval Patrick, rebuked Auntie Zeituni’s ingratitude during a debate.

Charlie Baker and Tim Cahill almost fell over each other, scrambling to explain how they were the tougher candidate on the hordes of illegal immigrants who aspire to an Auntie Zeituni lifestyle.

Everybody running for office these days wants to tell you how we need to be protected from all those people who come here looking for a handout instead of a hand up.

So, please, now that we’ve got that out of the way, explain to me why the federal government wants to deport 79-year-old Bridie Murphy.

Bridget Murphy — everybody calls her Bridie — is a sweet old lady who makes a mean cup of tea. She was born in Connemara, a rocky, beautiful place in the west of Ireland that produces some haunting landscape but not enough jobs. She first came to Boston as a teenager and got work keeping house for a family in Woburn.

“They survived my cooking,’’ Bridie said, sitting at the dining room table of the house in West Roxbury where she has lived since 1988.

In 1957, she married Patrick Murphy, a US citizen, in Jamaica Plain but they moved back to Ireland for a while because there was little work in Boston at the time. They eventually returned to Boston and Bridie got her green card in 1979 and she and the husband worked as meatcutters in Roxbury and raised four kids, all of them US citizens.

Bridie could have become a citizen herself, but the paperwork and the process was daunting. Besides, she had the green card, making her a lawful, permanent resident, and that was good enough for her.

Pat Murphy died eight years ago, but Bridie kept working, most recently at the cafeteria at Catholic Memorial School, just down the street from her house.

Last year, Bridie planned a long stay with her daughter, who had moved back to Rosmuc, the village in Galway where Bridie grew up.

Bridie wasn’t sure how long she could stay without jeopardizing her residency status, so before she flew to Ireland she went to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office downtown.

“They told me as long as I wasn’t gone more than 12 months, everything would be OK,’’ Bridie said.

So, she came back after 11 months, stood in line at Logan Airport after a six-hour flight from Shannon, and showed her green card to a US Customs and Border Protection agent.

The agent looked at the card and said, “This is old.’’

“So am I,’’ Bridie Murphy told him.

They took her into a room and started questioning her. Bridie Murphy will be 80 in two months and has never been in trouble in her life. She was terrified.

“In fairness, they were very nice to me,’’ she said. “They gave me a glass of water.’’

But they also somehow sweet-talked her into surrendering her green card, which is something no one who has a house and family in Boston would ever wittingly do.

“They said it was the only way I was going to be able to go home,’’ Bridie said. “So I signed the paper. I’ve made a novena, every day, since the Korean War, and I made a novena that day, too. I guess the novenas didn’t work.’’

Now, this was all a very big misunderstanding, or a very cynical move by some very cynical border agents. But Bridie Murphy is supposed to show up in court on Nov. 17 and beg a judge not to deport her.

This, of course, is madness. And what makes it even more outrageous is that two of Bridie Murphy’s sons are in the US military.

Peter Murphy is in the Air Force. Patrick Murphy is an Army sergeant, currently deployed in Kuwait.

Kieran O’Sullivan, an immigration counselor at the Irish Pastoral Centre in Quincy, almost dropped the phone when Bridie called him, looking for help, and told him that her son’s Army unit left for the Middle East in July and he wouldn’t be back for a year.

“The idea that you would do this to a woman of nearly 80, who has been a legal resident for more than 30 years, is bad enough,’’ O’Sullivan said. “To do it to a woman whose sons are serving this country is unbelievable.’’

Chris Lavery, a lawyer from Canton who is representing Bridie Murphy free of charge, says her plight underscores how often common sense is sacrificed in a broken immigration system running on the fumes of meanness and paranoia.

“What are the people who did this to Bridie protecting us from?’’ Lavery asked. “A 79-year-old woman who worked her whole life, who gave us her children to fight our wars?’’

I placed a call to ICE, to ask them why they were preparing to throw Bridie Murphy, mother of a US soldier in harm’s way, out of the country. On Friday night, a very nice guy from ICE named Harold Ort called me back and this is what he said: “ICE will not comment on specifics of an individual’s case. However, after considering all factors, ICE is exercising prosecutorial discretion in Mrs. Murphy’s case and will not pursue the case before the immigration judge.’’

Looks like those novenas worked after all.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

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