Campaign in Ireland to halt deportation of Dublin-born schoolboy Eric Zhi to China – a country he has never even visited
- Eric Zhi Ying Mei Xue, 9, has never been out of Ireland
- Authorities plan to deport him and his mother, who entered country illegally 12 years ago
Pint-sized Eric Zhi Ying Mei Xue was born in the Republic of Ireland and has never left the country, in fact, you could say the schoolboy is as Irish as a glass of Guinness.
But the Irish government is planning to deport the nine-year-old to China in a move which has provoked a storm of controversy on the Emerald Isle and seen more than 50,000 people sign a petition calling for him to be allowed to stay in the land of his birth.
Eric was born in Dublin in 2009 and goes to primary school in Bray, County Wicklow, a coastal town about 20km (12 miles) south of the capital that has earned the nickname “Bray-jing” due to its substantial Chinese community.
But Eric was not entitled to Irish citizenship because of a 2004 change in the law which ended the automatic right of babies born in Ireland to claim citizenship unless one of the parents was an Irish citizen.
At that time, the government said the law had to be tightened to stop women travelling to Ireland to exploit a legal loophole which entitled their Irish-born children to an EU passport.
Eric’s mother Leena Mei Mei Xue entered Ireland illegally 12 years ago after arriving from China’s Fujian province at age 19.
Maeve Tierney, principal of St Cronan’s Boys' National School, which Eric attends, is leading a vocal campaign to prevent the boy from being sent to a country he does not know, has never been to and where he knows no one.
“Eric is a great boy. He is a very gentle, quiet and natural child. He is also very able and well adjusted. He is part of a year of 24 pupils, eight of whom are Chinese. To take him out of the only environment he has ever known and into a situation where he knows no one and has never been just wouldn’t be right in my opinion,” Tierney said in an interview with the Post.
“Whatever the circumstances under which his mother arrived in Ireland, I can see no reason for the perceived ‘sins’ of his mother being visited on this child. At the school we strongly believe that on humanitarian grounds the decision to deport him to China should be revoked.”
Tierney added that 53,000 people had signed a petition backing Eric’s right to stay in Ireland.
The campaign has gained the support of Irish health minister Simon Harris, who is also a member of parliament for Wicklow, the constituency in which Eric lives.
“I have made representations to the Department of Justice and Equality in relation to Eric’s situation. I have appealed for Eric to remain in Ireland on humanitarian grounds,” Harris told the Irish media.
“Quite frankly, Eric is Irish. He was born here, goes to school here and has never lived anywhere else. This is his home. This is his country. I really hope common sense can prevail.”
His mother had fought a long battle to secure residency in Ireland, but was recently told she would be deported along with her only child. She is taking a low profile in the campaign for humanitarian intervention and is being represented by workers at the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland in Dublin.
Teachers and administrators at Eric’s school have pleaded with the authorities to revoke the deportation order on humanitarian grounds and said they have been “overwhelmed” by public support.
“He, as far as I’m concerned, is as Irish as every other boy in this school. He is completely and absolutely assimilated into our society, into our school, into our whole community,” Tierney said, adding that Eric was born in the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin.
The justice department said it did “not comment on individual cases”.
The Republic of Ireland was once the only country in the European Union that automatically granted citizenship rights at birth. In 1999, only 2 per cent of babies born there had non-national parents but by 2003 the figure had risen to almost 20 per cent.
In 2004, the then taoiseach, or prime minister, Bertie Ahern and his government argued that Ireland’s lone stance on citizenship was producing abuse of the system.
The campaign was supported by Dublin’s main maternity hospitals, which warned more non-EU women were arriving at their doors in the latter stages of pregnancy, even in the early stages of labour, and often carrying no medical records.
In a referendum, voters in Ireland overwhelmingly supported the ending of automatic citizenship rights, with 79 per cent in favour of tightening the law.