- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

DUBLIN Ireland can deport the immigrant parents of children born in the country, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday in a landmark judgment that raises fears for more than 10,000 families from Eastern Europe and Africa.

The 5-2 verdict upheld a lower court's order that two families one Czech, the other Nigerian should be deported, even though each had a son born in Ireland in 2001.

It was the first reversal of Ireland's unique practice of granting residency, often followed by citizenship, to anybody who has a baby in the European Union nation, even if they arrived illegally.

Since the mid-1990s, Ireland has been struggling to cope with its first immigration wave as word spread of the country's booming economy and lax immigration controls.

Deputy Prime Minister Mary Harney welcomed the court decision, saying it "will prevent others from coming to Ireland to abuse our asylum process on the basis that they are pregnant."

Immigration officials say it has become common for single pregnant women to come to Ireland from countries outside the 15-nation EU, most frequently Nigeria, to claim political asylum.

While asylum applications frequently take years to complete, until now the birth of a child has resolved matters conclusively with Irish citizenship for the infant and residency rights for the mother.

Last year, the government granted residency to more than 4,000 people from non-EU countries because they had produced Irish-born children. Another 10,462 applications remain outstanding.

The rule dated to 1990, when the Supreme Court weighing whether to deport illegal immigrants from Morocco and Nigeria who had children while in Ireland decided that every child born in Ireland had a right to enjoy "care, company and parentage."

But yesterday, Justice Adrian Hardiman, writing one of the majority opinions, argued that the birth of a child "doesn't fundamentally transform the rights of the parent."

Immigration-rights activists and opposition politicians urged the government not to use the Supreme Court judgment as a weapon.

"It would be quite wrong if today's decision of the Supreme Court were to be used by the government as an excuse to initiate any campaign of mass deportations," said Joe Costello of the Labor Party.

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