By Ted Hesson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration has granted a rare reprieve from deportation to a former member of an Irish Republican militant group who had been convicted of crimes committed during the political and sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland in the 1980s, a U.S. official said on Monday.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers from New York had lobbied for Malachy McAllister to be allowed to stay in the United States despite a 2017 immigration policy change that raised the legal bar for temporary relief for deportation. He had been due to be deported last week.
McAllister was convicted in Northern Ireland of charges related to serving as a lookout in a 1981 attack on a police officer in Northern Ireland, according to U.S. court documents. He also was convicted of plotting to shoot and kill another officer. He was jailed for seven years but freed on early release in 1985.
A U.S. immigration appeals board ruled in 2003 that McAllister had engaged in terrorist activities and ordered his deportation.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision in 2006 - with notable commentary from President Donald Trump's sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, a judge on the court who retired earlier this year. Barry concurred with the court ruling but implored the attorney general to allow McAllister and his family to remain in the United States.
New York Republican Representative Peter King said he pointed out Barry's commentary to Trump when he called the president on Nov. 22 to lobby on McAllister's behalf. King said McAllister, who owned a construction business in the United States, had received a six-month stay from deportation and that the White House was working on a more permanent solution.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment. A senior DHS official who spoke on the condition of anonymity confirmed that McAllister had received a six-month stay, calling the move "an act of generosity" by Trump in light of lobbying by members of Congress.
"Whatever happened back in Belfast, he’s paid his time," said New York Democratic Representative Eliot Engel, one of the lawmakers who lobbied on McAllister's behalf. "He’s a different person now."
McAllister was a member of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), one of the Irish Republican militant groups that fought in the "Troubles," that pitted predominantly Catholic nationalists seeking union with Ireland against British security forces and mainly Protestant unionists who wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom.
The INLA, which broke away from the larger Irish Republican Army in 1975, around the height of Northern Ireland’s three decades of conflict, called a ceasefire in 1998, the same year the Good Friday peace agreement was struck and mostly ended the bloodshed that cost some 3,600 lives in the British-run province.
McAllister went to Canada with his late wife and their children in 1988, but were denied asylum there, according to U.S. court documents. They entered the United States on temporary tourist visas in 1996, but were ordered deported three years later and subsequently denied asylum, the documents said.
McAllister received regular stays of removal under previous U.S. administrations.
(Reporting by Ted Hesson; Editing by Ross Colvin and Alistair Bell)