Friday 23 August 2019

'We have to respect their laws' - Varadkar rules out directly intervening in case of Irishman facing deportation in US

Family life: Keith and Keren with children Leona (right), Gabriel and Mr Byrne’s stepson Ezra
Family life: Keith and Keren with children Leona (right), Gabriel and Mr Byrne’s stepson Ezra

Ralph Riegel

THE Government has ruled out directly intervening in the case of a young Irishman facing deportation from the US as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar warned the issue highlighted the urgent need for immigration reform in Washington.

Keith Byrne (37) has been given a deadline of Friday to agree to a deal whereby he leaves the US voluntarily.

The Cork native has been in custody in Pennsylvania since he was detained while on his way to work as a painter last week.

He was detained for alleged breaches of US immigration and visa regulations.

Keith Byrne's children (pictured) are US citizens
Keith Byrne's children (pictured) are US citizens

The Irishman had tried and failed on numerous occasions over the past 12 years to regularise his status in the US so he could remain with his US wife and two US-born children.

That included paying a financial contribution over his failure to abide by the visa waiver programme rules.

His case has now come to symbolise the plight of the so-called undocumented Irish in the US.

But Mr Varadkar warned that Ireland cannot interfere in the legal process of another country.

Happily married: Keith Byrne and Keren Zaga – a US citizen – tied the knot 10 years ago
Happily married: Keith Byrne and Keren Zaga – a US citizen – tied the knot 10 years ago

"The Government stand ready to provide consular assistance to any of our citizens who are in difficulty overseas," he said.

"That is available in this case."

"At the same time, though, we do have to respect the laws of other countries just as we would expect other people to respect our laws in this country."

"But I do think this particular case really does highlight the need for widescale immigration reform in the US."

"Because there are so many who went to the US but are now part of that society, running a business, employing people and maybe have an American family themselves."

"I know that we found ways in Ireland to allow people in those circumstances to stay. I hope that the American political system can do the same."

Mr Byrne entered the US in 2007 but overstayed the terms of his visa waiver programme.

He applied to remain in the US in 2010 but every effort to legalise his status was frustrated by the fact he had two minor marijuana possession convictions in Ireland as a young man.

He had voluntarily revealed the convictions to his lawyer in his US visa application.

His breach of the visa waiver programme was also later cited as a reason for refusing his residency and ultimate citizenship.

Mr Byrne, from Fermoy in Cork, has now been given a deadline of Friday to agree a deal whereby he will be given a passport to leave the US and return to Ireland.

He will then not be able to re-enter for five years.

At that point, he can re-apply for a US visa from Ireland.

Mr Byrne has lived in the US for more than 12 years and is married to US citizen, Keren Zaga, who works as a nurse.

He has two US-born children, Leona (6) and Gabriel (4) as well as a 13 year old stepson, Ezra, by his wife's former partner.

The couple have purchased a home outside Philadelphia and the Irish-American community have hailed Mr Byrne as a hard-working and law-abiding member of the local community.

Mr Byrne's sister, Melinda, warned that her brother was told if he refused to accept the deal on offer to voluntarily leave the US by July 19, he could face up to four years in jail.

However, his family fear that if he agrees to leave the US by Friday, he may never be able to regain entry and see his two US-born children on American soil.

Mr Byrne's wife and children may face the agonising decision of abandoning their US life to follow him back to Ireland.

His Cork family want a deportation hearing to be fast-tracked before an immigration judge.

Mr Byrne's father, Seamas, said his son was being punished for a minor issue as a young man.

"It is like getting a life sentence for speeding," he warned.

He pointed out that his son has married, settled down in the US and has run his own painting business for a decade.

Mr Byrne has also been fully tax compliant in the US.

Immigration reform campaigners have claimed that he is being used as a 'soft target' by Immigration and Customers Enforcement (ICE) in the US.

Online Editors

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