Tuesday 20 August 2019

Irishman at centre of US immigration row signs forms paving way for deportation

‘Taking the advice of those around him’: Keith Byrne with wife Keren Zaga, son Gabriel when he was born, stepson Ezra and daughter Leona
‘Taking the advice of those around him’: Keith Byrne with wife Keren Zaga, son Gabriel when he was born, stepson Ezra and daughter Leona

Niamh Lynch and Evie Kearney

An Irishman who is at the centre of an immigration controversy in the US has signed documents to pave the way for his deportation.

Keith Byrne (37) signed the documents yesterday morning in the US, according to his father.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Jim Byrne said that Keith would "take the advice of those around him".

"We won't know anything for two to three weeks. We're keeping our hopes up and our fingers and toes crossed," said Jim Byrne.

Keith Byrne, who is originally from Fermoy, Co Cork, signed the passport application after nine days of detention in Pike County Correctional Facility in north-east Pennsylvania.

He was detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement on his way to work last Wednesday.

He now has to wait for an Irish passport renewal before he can travel to Ireland.

Refusal to sign the documents could have sent Mr Byrne to jail for up to four years. Agreeing to the deal imposes a five-year minimum ban on re-entry to the US, with no guarantee that the restriction will ever be lifted.

Speaking to RTÉ Radio One's 'Drivetime' on Thursday evening, Keith's wife Keren Zaga said: "The deadline for tomorrow is that he sign a passport application... and once that passport application is signed then ICE [Immigration Customs Enforcement]can apply for his passport, which is what they need to put him on a plane to go home.

"He has to sign it legally, otherwise he can be charged criminally, because it's a criminal offence to not comply with deportation.

"He has been left with no choice but to sign this application for a passport. We never considered that they would ever take him... he never was contacted by ICE before that moment. They told our lawyer that he was not a person of interest a few years ago.

"He has been here very, very documented and trying in every effort to adjust his status... being upfront and open about everything."

Mr Byrne entered the US in 2007 under the visa-waiver programme. His family say he overstayed his visa after meeting his future wife.

Mr Byrne married Ms Zaga in 2009 and they live in Springfield, Pennsylvania, with their children Leona (6) and Gabriel (4), and Mr Byrne's 13-year-old stepson Ezra.

In 2010, the family applied for Mr Byrne's status as a permanent citizen, expecting a simple process due to him being married to and the father of US citizens.

Because of two minor marijuana possession charges from Mr Byrne's early 20s in Ireland, and his breach of the visa-waiver programme, his application and subsequent appeals were denied and his deportation was ordered.

US Congressman Brendan Boyle said Mr Byrne's case shows "just how broken" the US immigration system is.

"Mr Byrne is married to an American wife and has three American children," he said in a statement. "He started his own small business and pays taxes. He's never had so much as a speeding ticket while living in the US. How exactly does it make America great to deport this man?

"For over a decade now, polls have consistently showed about 70pc of the American people favour comprehensive immigration reform. In 2013, the Senate passed such a bill by a 68-32 vote. But a small, very loud, nativist minority has been able to block it.

"Immigrants built America. To betray them, is to betray our country's history."

Irish Independent

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