Irish immigrant’s forced NYC drone landing sparks deportation procedures

Irish immigration drone

Talk about the risks of flying a UAV without proper documentation. A 38-year-old Irish national and 12-year resident of New York is being detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) awaiting deportation over a visa infraction uncovered after his battery-depleted drone made an unexpected landing. Readers thus inclined can click a link supporting the pilot’s case toward the end of this post.

The Kafka-meets-immigration-police-via-quadcopter saga was related this week by the IrishCentral news site. It said the tale began in July when Irish citizen, Queens resident, and passionate aerial photographer Riccardo Pellecchia took his drone out to capture shots of New York. As phenomenally bad luck would have it, the battery of his UAV ran out during the flight and came down within a facility operated by electric company Con Edison. 

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That forced landing ultimately put the Irish immigrant’s 12-year US residency in the spotlight of ICE agents, who eventually realized he’d overstayed his 90-day tourism visa by 11 years and nine months. That – as fans of the brilliant film The Visitor know – often leads to brutal consequences for even the most admirable of undocumented people, who tend to get sucked into the inexorable whorl of the politically explosive immigration vortex.

After spotting Pellecchia recovering the craft on Con Edison property, employees put pro forma alerts out to the police. Responding officers heard the Irish immigrant’s explanation for the drone’s unplanned landing, determined it to be true and innocuous, and bid him good day. That would have been the end of it, had the topic of UAV activity near potentially vulnerable infrastructure not become the source of security concerns in recent months. 

But it had.

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The Con Edison UAV incident subsequently turned up on the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force radar. Its agents came to call on Pellecchia, who reportedly offered to surrender the craft for full inspection and analysis. Like their NYPD peers, those FBI officials determined there was nothing to pursue. 

But by then the drone mishap had caused the native of County Louth’s name to be thrust into the administrative and legal gears of US immigration services, which (depending on one’s political position) either admirably or mercilessly never stop grinding once they commence. 

As a result, Pellecchia has been sitting in the ICE Orange County Correctional Facility in Goshen, New York for two weeks now, unable to appeal his deportation order. And, as IrishCentral details in quoting the Irish national’s lawyer, the woebegone drone pilot cannot post bond or plead his case before a US immigration judge under the terms of his 90-day visa waiver program into the US.

That leaves him unable to argue his otherwise clean record in both Ireland and the US; his gainful employment – admittedly without the Green Card requisite – during his 12-year New York residency; or his contributions to his Queens community (or reportedly admirable aerial photography activities) to immigration officials considering his deportation. 

He is, of course, among thousands of people in similar circumstances from even more dramatic deportation scenarios who have also proven themselves model residents in a US society and economy that has forever relied on people from elsewhere, and of all colors, for enrichment.

Pellecchia’s supporters have launched an online petition urging the Irish immigrant drone pilot’s release, drawing over 1,000 signatures so far. As hard as its decisions often are, ICE also enjoys prosecutorial discretion to dismiss cases that considered low priority or of little consequence to law and order in the US – an outside chance in a drama that sprung from an unexpected drone landing.

Photo: Nick Kelly/Unsplash


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